Book group up in Mayberry (<-- not its real name) picked this one and due to two weekends in a row out of town, and a little confusion on my part about the book (I had it mixed up with a different book, the name of which I cannot now recall), I hadn't tackled it earlier. But wow, it was a crazy fast read. Like, 1 hour. Spinelli is _not_ wasting your time. That said, I don't understand how this is a kids' book. This is a book about childhood, aimed firmly at adults, and specifically boomer adults contemplating, reluctantly, their own mortality, so Spinelli is sort of spoonfeeding it to them so they'll start working through the end of life process (giving away their treasures, passing along their wisdom, turning over leadership to the next crop of kiddies, communicating to the younger set the things they loved when they were younger), instead of persisting in avoiding it (sharpie'ing the tattoo back on their belly = attempts to extend youth/deny aging, trying to get a new tattoo = experiments at rebirthing?).
Spinelli's heavy hand shows through twice. First, and other reviewers noticed this, with Harold "the Destroyer". Jack is entirely too savvy in the way he walks Albert through the fear that Harold understands so well that he has become an expert on inflicting it on others. First Jack has the Destroyer clicker him. Then twice more. Then Jack self-clickers repeatedly. And only then does Jack ask Albert to destroy the Clicker. Is Jack a leader in Hokey Pokey? Sure. But seriously? That's a bit over the top. Even Harold has a moment of redemption, now that he can be perceived as justanotherkid again. Second, Jack perceives the movement towards adolescence, or at least awareness of tomorrow and the possibility of directed action over time to accomplish goals, as something which is out of his control, a ticket to get on a one way train and he doesn't know what is at the end of the journey. His primary response is to Make Sure He Sucks the Marrow Out of This Life in Hokey Pokey. I don't think I've ever met a kid like that -- but that is utterly characteristic of many people who engage in conscious life review as part of a dying process, whether it occurs early in life through a disease process, or due to old age.
But you know? It's an engaging little SF novel that takes its world seriously. Are there elements of Is It a Dream or Is It Real? Sure. Are they a bit worn (the yellow ribbon in the pocket)? Yeah, but you know, I think that may have been part of the point. Hokey Pokey is an attempt to get adults to treat the world of their children with a little more respect by reminding them that they once lived in another place, even when their parents were nagging at them to do their homework or put their dirty socks in the hamper. It is reasonably successful at that. And even better, it is an attempt to employ all the warm, fuzzy nostalgia of the childhood transition to Having Executive Function to make the further transition to whatever happens after our life here is done just that little bit less bad scary, and a little bit more okay.
Obvs, if no one else is talking about this interpretation, YMMV. If you're having trouble getting into the book, just start a few pages in and it should go fairly smoothly.
Oddly, I liked the book better than anyone else at group, which is the opposite of the way it usually works.
Here is someone else's review, that I thought was pretty good, but which has a somewhat different take:
On a gender note, we have identified some issues. First, the group didn't much care for the Girls. They seemed like GirlBoys -- rather than having girly characteristics such as sitting around and braiding each others hair. I played a lot with the boys, but I still did the hair braiding thing; it is a gap. Second, I had an issue with the idea that Jubilee's time came after Jack's. They supposedly showed up in Hokey Pokey at the same time, battling it out on their trikes. But girls stereotypically mature earlier, so Jubilee's time coming second seemed wrong. OTOH, I could view it as support for my death theory; stereotypically, women die older/later. Third, Jubilee has a younger brother in Hokey Pokey, Albert, who she prides herself on snuggling so he doesn't need the Snuggler, and feels envy when Albert admires Jack, and as she moves toward "her time" to leave Hokey Pokey, begins to have more distance from her brother. This is a big ole mismash of nurturing female, gender norms, gender dichotomies and For Women to Be Real Adults Their Nurturing Nature Must Be Suppressed. So, bleah. All around bleah, from every perspective. I feel like if you're gonna do gender norms, where is the hair braiding?
Finally, as Jubilee matures, she digs a trench to try to break into the Forbidden Hut. But as Jack matures, he climbs a hill and grabs the moon and almost misses the train. I'm too tired to get into dichotomies and things which are associated with female/femininity vs. male/masculinity. It was a little annoying.
But Spinelli managed to write a book that read really fast. He does not waste the reader's time. I really respect that.