A Year in the Life of a (Total and Complete) Genius, guest post by Laura MacDonald

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Like most of my fellow Book Wars contributors I am a student of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia. And, like Nafiza, I am writing a creative thesis.

But do you know who else is a MACL student Alumna with a creative writing thesis? Stacey Matson! Aka the author of A Year in the Life of a (Total and Complete) Genius, aka the book I’m about to review. So not only is A Year in the Life her debut novel, it is the product of her MACL thesis – COOL, RIGHT?

I will be posting an interview with Stacey in the next month or so (stay tuned for that to learn more about her and the genesis of this book) but today I’ll be covering the launch of the book, which I had the pleasure of attending, and the book itself, so let’s get started!

For all the MACL program connections Stacey and I have, I actually met her in a completely different context. When I moved to Vancouver I knew I wanted to find some kind of extracurricular volunteer opportunity to help balance my school work with something fun and productive. Through a series of serendipitous events, I discovered the Writers’ Exchange and met Stacey through them! I mention this partly due to the fact that I like to promote Writers’ Exchange whenever I can, and partly because the lovely individuals behind Writers’ Exchange (Sarah Maitland and Jennifer MacLeod) generously provided their space for Stacey’s book launch.

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The Writers’ Exchange provides literacy programs to the designated inner-city kids of East Hastings in Vancouver, BC, Canada and their space is not only big, bright, and inviting, but filled with books and the overall essence of children and literacy. So what better place to host a book launch?

I arrived (with fellow Book Warriors Yash and Chris in tow) right on time on September 5th to find the space already filled with friends, family, and people eager to celebrate Stacey and the launch of A Year in the Life. I promptly purchased a copy of my own and joined the queue of people eager for Stacey’s signature.

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Stacey and I!

After some snacks and some mingling, Stacey (introduced as “our total and complete genius”) gave her speech. She held the audience from start to finish, sharing anecdotes from her life and the writing process, as well as reading a handful of excerpts from the book (met with laughter from the audience each time).

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Stacey Matson, feat. her book!
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The captive audience as Stacey reads from “A Year in the Life of a (Total and Complete) Genius”

Now, a little more about the book itself – here’s a bit of Scholastic Canada’s official summary of A Year in the Life of a (Total and Complete) Genius:

Arthur Bean, soon-to-be a rich and famous author, has set two goals for himself: to win the school writing contest and to win the heart of his secret crush, Kennedy. But his life has had some major twists and turns lately, and the recent loss of his mother definitely complicates things.

Arthur A. Bean, shares the details of his life as a new middle schooler with readers through journal entries, school assignments, notes to teachers, and emails with friends. He is smart (and he knows it) and funny (which I’m pretty sure is mostly unintentional). But regardless of whether or not Arthur intends to be funny, if there is one thing I want to say about this book, its that it is funny. One example comes very early on, in is his poem An Ode to Knitting, which ends with this:

Most people say that it’s geeky
That a boy who makes sweaters should quit
Buts that’s when I say something cheeky:
I tell them, “It takes balls to knit!”

Another aspect of the book that I really appreciate is that Arthur is flawed – he has his fair share of obstacles in life (the recent death of his mother and a school bully), and his moral compass doesn’t exactly point North all the time (he has a tendency to steal other peoples writing/ideas and passes them off as his own). I like when characters are flawed, because it makes them true to life. And it gives them room to develop, which Arthur Bean certainly does. This is most evident (to me) when he eventually ends up befriending his bully, Robbie Zack. If you want to know more about how exactly that plays out, you’ll just have to read the book!

There is so much to like about this book, but since I hate spoilers, I’m going to leave you all here, with just a taste of the clever and hilarious Arthur A. Bean.

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“I’ll sign your books with or without your name, but my name will be on it”
– Stacey Matson