Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli.
The big scientific news about the death of a proton really has Will stressed out. Nothing will ever be the same. Since a proton can just combust this means nothing really lasts forever.
This is how Jerry begins our tale of Will, his annoying little sister Tabby and his best friends Mi-Su and B.T. Every weekend Will and his two friends get together for pizza and Monopoly. B.T. ‘s strategy is to buy everything he lands on, especially the railroads. He always loses, but he doesn’t care. He laughs and says “I’m wheeling and dealing.” Will and Mi-Su think he is a total buffoon. He is also famous for riding his skateboard down Dead Man’s Hill (another reason they think he is a buffoon.)
Mi-Su is a girl. Will is starting to notice she’s a girl. One day in class he notices how beautiful her neck is. He freaks out and wonders if anyone else has noticed her neck.
Spinelli is great at describing the ways siblings can annoy each other. Tabby wants Will to notice her so much. She takes black jelly beans, (his favorite) and plunks them into a waste basket to get his attention. When he yells she squeals and runs away. Tabby, tragically, will do something extreme later in the story to get his attention.
Some discussion question ideas for teens:
1. What is their strategy when they play monopoly? What does that say about them as a person?
2. When a boy and girl have been friends since they were little should they become boyfriend and girlfriend or will that ruin everything?
3. You can read the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods” and discuss it.
4. Do they have a younger sibling? How do they annoy them? Or are they the younger sibling? How do they try and get their older brother and sister’s attention?
5. Look up some information about proton death. Why do they think this is significant?
What I love most about this story is the character development. B.T. is my favorite character. He breezes through life and has fun. The title from the book comes from his goofy recitation of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods. Instead of “And miles to go before I sleep.” B.T. says “And smiles to go before I weep.”
Isn’t that what we do? We smile. And then we weep. This is the theme of this book. Enjoying relationships. Not taking each other for granted. Nothing lasts forever, even a proton. Because bad things happen and the times when we smile help us survive the times when we weep.