Publishers try to entice customers to buy their books by overtly connecting them to established, popular writers. Penguin does this on their official website for Eric Poole’s Where’s My Wand?: One Boy’s Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting by connecting Poole to the incredibly prolific David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. I worry that such a tactic, however, forces some readers, like me, to see this book through the wrong lens.
It took a while to feel connected to Where’s My Wand? because I could not figure out how individual chapters were supposed to relate to each other. The book is labeled “memoir,” which implies that it is a cohesive, book-length narrative like Dry and Running with Scissors, books that made Burroughs famous. The first half of the book feels disconnected, though. Each chapter tells a distinctive story, but I could not find the thread connecting them together. As an example, he barely mentions religion in the early chapters, but it pops up as a major focus later on, which felt a bit jarring. I started wondering if I should think of this book more like David Sedaris’s Naked or When You Are Engulfed in Flames, collections of essays for which he is most known. The end of the book, however, does strive to provide the connections that are missing earlier.
A reviewer should reflect on how the genre and style of a text shapes the reading process, so it is natural to question whether I should read this book as an extended narrative or a compilation of distinctive pieces. While I do wish for more unification throughout the book overall, it was a fun read with several highlights. I loved the story of his fourth-grade classmate Stacy, born without arms yet in possession of an incredible courage that teaches Poole about strength and confrontation. His first encounters with death while on a bus trip to Iowa and later with a local family friend allow his childlike voice to shine. He tries to reconcile what he has experienced with his innocent perspective on God’s plan and life’s purpose, and the results are touching. Near the end of the book, Poole finds a way to challenge a cruel neighborhood bully who tortures and kills small animals; Poole’s strategy is unique, effective, and a pleasure to read.
Where’s My Wand is highly relatable to anyone who has felt the sting of difference in late childhood and early adolescence, especially to middle-class, white gay men of his generation. I, too, watched the same television shows he obsesses over. Many gay men struggled as kids with the pleasure of being the teacher’s pet even as it increased the size of the targets placed on our backs by our fellow classmates. Replace his trumpet with my trombone, and you have another hopeful story of how success in music might be a way to be seen as less of a freak by peers. Ultimately, this book might prove to be the perfect summer read. It may not be the kind of book that many readers will feel compelled to read from start to finish in one sitting, but it is a perfect book to carry around and have on hand for those pockets of time throughout the warmer months when we want to kick back for a few minutes with a good read.
WHERE’S MY WAND?:
One Boy’s Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting
By Eric Poole Amy Einhorn Books
Hardcover, $24.95, 272p