Reviews: Wayside School

A pitch-perfect blend of the fantastic & the mundane

Mundane Fantastic is one of my favourite fiction genres, and I've consumed a lot of stories in that genre over the years: Scott Pilgrim; Haruhi Suzumiya; FLCL. Wayside was arguably one of the first - and easily, one of the best.

One of the things that makes the series work so well is how the characters approach the bizarre goings-on. They tend to either treat them with the utmost seriousness or never give it a second thought. Case in point - when Joe orders a potato salad in Falling Down that morphs into his old, witch-like teacher's face, he doesn't scream and run away or sit there agape. He & his best friend immediately buckle down and start eating her, effectively killing her. In another story in the same book, Stephen lists incredibly weird reasons for why he's wearing a dress suit for class picture day - he's wearing dress shoes because they're uncomfortable, he's sporting a tie because it chokes him - and nobody else finds this strange or abnormal. It's little touches like that that make the series so enjoyable.

Another thing that makes the series just work is how well Sachar gets kids. The kids in Wayside aren't perfect little angels - they insult each other, bully each other, and steal things from each other, Despite this, they're all very likable, even if most of them are only defined by a single character trait. (Well, except Kathy & Terrence, but they're supposed to be disliked). Unfortunately, the teachers in the series are mostly one-note villains and are largely forgettable. (The last book, which focuses exclusively on them, is equally forgettable).

The humour in the series is also part of why it works very well. It's low-key, quirky, imaginative humour that often takes a while to really grasp. A bit demanding for younger children, but great for teens and adults.

All in all, Wayside is a fun, delightfully odd series that should be enjoyed by readers (even reluctant ones) of all ages. Overall score: 9.5/10.

P.S. There's a cartoon series adaptation. Don't watch it.