Earl Wilbur is an overweight, asthmatic, middle-school aged kid (fifth grade?) who lives with his mom (his dad, who is English, left the family to return to England). Many of the other kids tease him, but a bullying fellow class-mate, Eddie McFee, has been taunting him and even beating him up until one day Earl pays Eddie a dollar not to hurt him, and now Eddie demands a dollar each week to leave Earl alone. Then, Earl’s money runs out, so he and his two best friends, Maxie Zuckerman and Rosie Swanson, hatch a plan to get back and Eddie and stop him from bullying Earl. But will it work?
Whenever I see a book from a secular publisher with the word “God” in the title, I am immediately a little suspicious, and this book did absolutely nothing to allay my suspicions. Oh, Earl does pray occasionally, but his prayers are basically just the childish kind of “bargaining with God” (“please make me a sick so that I don’t have to go to P. E. class tomorrow”) that many people mistake for genuine prayer. Parents will want to know that the book is filled with euphemisms (geez, darn, heck) and even “O my God” as an exclamation, and I am increasingly frustrated with the ubiquitous use of “OMG” in our society. Such language shows an author’s poverty of vocabulary in trying to get across ideas. Yet, even worse is that Maxie comes out with the “d” word. True, it is only once, but I have trouble recommending books where children use curse words seemingly as a matter of course.
With topics such as childhood obesity and bullying, there could have been a good story here, but the author had to ruin it with bad language and with a zany, almost racy style of writing which I suppose was thought to make it more “relevant” and “realistic” to today’s children, whose attention span and literacy level have been decimated by decades of watching television. This book does not so much deal with finding an actual solution to the problem of bullying as with the desire simply to get revenge on Eddie. In fact, rather than handling the situation in a constructive way, it almost seems to me to be making fun of the whole thing.,
Another thing that I did not like about this book is that adults are generally made to look like incompetent morons. However, when I learned that the author also created the “Junie B. Jones” series, I guess that I should not have been surprised. Other people may like the “Junie B. Jones” books, but the ones that I read I found to be dreadful. Some may decide that Dear God, Help!!! Love, Earl, which was reprinted by Random House Children’s Books in 2006, “is a good choice for starting conversations with students about bullying in school and how children should or should not deal with the situations they find themselves in,” but we shall not be reading it at our house. It is one of the “Geek Series Chronicles” that also include Maxie, Rose, and Earl: Partners in Grime, and Rosie Swanson: Fourth-Grade Geek for President, and I have to admit that I have no desire to read them either.