“He would be on the commercial…” Or The TV Kid

Screenshot 2013-05-20 at 16.38.32Betsy Byars sure knows how to write a melancholy kids book. This book is nearly, but not quite as depressing as The Cartoonistand as The Pinballs.

Lennie lives with his mom in the Fairlyland Motel. He and his mom had spent most of his life moving from town to town so the mom could provide a better life for them. When Lennie’s grandfather died and left his business, the aforementioned Fairyland Motel, to Lennie’s mom, she jumped at the chance to run it, and hoped that this would be her and Lennie’s last move.

Because of all the moving around, Lennie was a poor student. And he didn’t have any friends, never having stayed in place long enough to make real friends. Lennie’s closest friend was his television. Every evening, when he was supposed to be studying, he was actually getting lost in the world of game shows, sitcoms, and old-time shows like Lassie or The Waltons.

When Lennie wasn’t watching TV, he was daydreaming  about being on TV, either as a contestant on a game show, as a commercial actor, or as a member of a well-functioning nuclear family from a sitcom.

After he failing another science test, a depressed Lennie wanders off one Saturday afternoon and crosses a private lake behind the motel. He likes to go back there to look at the fancy vacation homes back there. Lennie had earlier discovered where the owners kept their keys while they weren’t there and had taken to going through people’s homes. He never took anything, he just liked looking at the stuff and pretending he lived there.

As he was breaking in to one of the homes, a cop car turned onto the street, so Lennie hid underneath the house out of the cops’ vision. The cops found the key stuck in the door where Lennie left it and started searching around. After they left for good, Lennie was squirming his way out from under the house, pulled down a pile of rocks when a rattle snake came out and bit him.

Lennie’s leg immediately began swelling and became really painful. He couldn’t even make it back to his boat in the lake. He lay down on the porch and was convinced he was dying. About an hour and a half later, as Lennie seems to be drifting in and out of consciousness, the cops come back and rush him to the hospital.

He stayed in the hospital for a couple weeks, befriending one of the cops who saved him. As he watches TV in the hospital, he starts to feel really disconnected from the shows that  he used to dream about so much. He feels like his near-death experience is more real than anything he watches on TV.  He ends up doing a report on rattlesnakes and their bites to make up for the poor grades he’d been getting on tests.

As the book ends, Lennie is back home at the motel and becoming friendly with two sisters who are staying there with their parents. He impresses them with his snake bite story.

  • One product Lennie imagines is called Friend. A real-size doll you can take along with you so you aren’t alone. Lennie thinks it’s a great idea, but when he’s almost dying from snake venom, he realizes it’s ridiculous and just a doll.
  • The motel Lennie’s mom runs used to be considered a southern road-side attraction, with a large lawn scattered with statues of fairy-tale characters. But now all that remains is a wishing-well and three worn out characters (Humpty Dumpty, an elf and Hansel). I can’t help but think that’s some kind of symbolism.
  • In the hospital, Lennie was watching an episode of Bonanza about some guy winning a Chinese girl in a poker game and he thought he was winning a horse. I don’t really get it, but it sounds fairly racist.
  • Lennie’s very astute observations about TV: “…The Waltons or the Brady Bunch made you think there was something wrong with you family, when really, Lennie thought, his own family – just him and his mom – was a hundred times realer than the Bradys or the Walton or the Cleavers or any other TV family you could name.”
  • Because I always look for things like this. This book is copyright 1976, and Lennie is probably eleven years old. That means he’d be forty-eight now.
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About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in Betsy Byars. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “He would be on the commercial…” Or The TV Kid

  1. crd says:

    I read this as a kid and have always remembered it (with horror), because I could never get that scene out of my head where he makes a series of criss-crossing cuts over his ankle to alleviate the swelling.

  2. Karin says:

    This book also was super-memorable to me because of the snakebite – I didn’t remember a single other thing about it! Hope you are doing well – have always enjoyed your blog!

  3. Short-term car insurance is principally with regard to somebody that has handed their own generating check however haven’t selected the actual insurance plan of the option.

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