Plot Summary: This is Cukoo’s diary after she is released from the mental institution and tells the story of her and her friends who refer to themselves as the Freakshow. Each of the kids in the group has a nickname based on what the other kids might tease them about and collectively they are trying to make high school a more positive place. Throughout the book they face many serious obstacles like the death of Cukoo’s legal guardian and Brainzilla, one of the Freakshow, attempting suicide after being bullied on social media. In the end they do finally make a positive change at their school by bringing a large group of students together for a shout out to get rid of negative emotions and getting one of their teachers to stop giving pop quizzes.
Critical Evaluation: The book comes across as rather juvenile for all the serious issues that are brought up Cukoo is sexually assaulted at one point and this kind of just gets glossed over due to the fact that her legal guardian dies that same night. The boy who assaulted Cukoo later is involved in cyber bullying the Freakshow leading one member Brainzilla to attempt suicide which once again gets glossed over. This bully does eventually get booed off stage when they hold their shout out and he once again mocks the Freakshow crew but other than that there are no repercussions for his behavior. Cukoo’s living arrangement is also glossed over. She is living with Mrs. Morris because her mother abandoned her months ago, this is actually what prompted her hospital stay the first time, so when Mrs. Morris dies she begins living with her daughter who moved home after her death. This is clearly not an ideal living situation but social services doesn’t really check in on that which is odd because they are so involved in her mental health. It is also unclear if Cukoo really has any type of mental disorder or is just appropriately responding to leading a very stressful life. Her actual psychologist seems to think the latter but her school guidance counselor clearly thinks she has a problem and Cukoo herself sometimes seems to indicate she may have a disorder or has dealt with one in the past and is doing better now. Overall this glossing over serious issues comes across as talking down to the audience and expecting them not to notice things do not add up. In looking at reviews I saw this bothered readers to different degrees with some really hating it and others not caring at all because they liked how Cukoo responded to all of this stress with such a positive attitude. Overall this book still comes across as very well liked in reviews. The book also featured really fun and interesting artwork.
Reader’s Annotation: Cukoos life is full of major stress its enough to make anyone a little cukoo but with her great friends the Freakshows she can get through any high school drama.
Author Information: James Patterson writes thriller/ suspense novels for adults as well as books for children and teens. He is also involved in book donations, scholarships, and donating money to support schools. Lisa Papademetriou has written many young adult books and has previously collaborated with Patterson on Middle School: Big Fat Liar. Keino is the British illustration team in charge of the illustrations in the book and are currently working on their debut young adult novel.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Booktalk Ideas: 1) Why doesn’t Cukoo tell anyone when Marty assaults her? Or when she and the Freakshow are cyber bullied?
2) What do you think will happen to Cukoo next?
Reading Level & Interest Level: This book is listed for readers age 12-17 though I would say the interest level is probably a little lower and that older teens will be more critical of the way the major issues in the book are handled.
Challenge Issues: The book features sexual assault when Marty forcibly kisses Cukoo and then covers her mouth and shoves his hand up her skirt when she tries to scream. She bites him and jumps out of his car where her friend Brainzilla rescues her. The characters do not tell any adults what happened and the attack is quickly overshadowed by the death of Cukoos guardian. Later in the Book Brainzilla attempts suicide though there is less information on this readers only see her after the fact and know that Cukoo thinks she must have swallowed pills to do it. This also is quickly forgotten as Cukoo ends up back in the mental hospital. These scenes may be too mature for some readers and others may be upset by the lack of consequences for Marty’s actions but the book is still well reviewed and overall conveys a good message about staying positive.
Why is it included?: I honestly do not really like this book I included it because of all the reviews I saw on Goodreads saying that they really loved this book and thought the ending was so positive. I personally thought the ending was anticlimactic and wondered how long Cukoo was going to be allowed to live with Mrs. Morris’s daughter and if she would ever find out what happened to her mom. So while this would never be my first choice of a book to add to a collection I thought it was important to include since clearly there are readers who really respond to it. I did love two things about the book though the first was the artwork and the second is the fact that Johnny Depp makes a totally random appearance at their school for one chapter. I also included this book because of James Patterson’s popularity with tweens and teens. I had heard positive reviews of some of his tween books and was interesting in reading some of his work.