Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mike: A Public School Story (audio book) by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Debra Lynn

This is yet another book I listened to for free via LibriVox. You can also read it via Project Gutenberg. The first part of this book was originally called Jackson Junior. The second part of this book was originally called The Lost Lambs. Also, The Lost Lambs has been republished in two parts as Enter Psmith and Mike and Psmith.

I considered adding the tag "young adult" to this post, since I think this book was originally intended for young boys. However, I decided not to include the tag, because it doesn't look like the book is currently being marketed towards children or teens, even on the UK version of Amazon.

Synopsis:

The first half of the book takes place at Wrykyn, Mike's first school. While attending Wrykyn, Mike becomes friends with a rule-breaking boy named Wyatt, pretends to hurt his wrist so that his brother, Bob, can play cricket in his stead, and butts heads with Firby-Smith, the team captain.

Mike is crazy about cricket, but much less enthusiastic about his studies. When his grades plummet, his father pulls him out of Wrykyn and sends him to Sedleigh instead. Mike, still a Wrykyn boy at heart, is determined to hate Sedleigh and not join its cricket team. He makes friends with a clever and eccentric boy named Psmith (Psmith renamed himself to differentiate himself from all the other Smiths, but the "P" is silent), and the two of them (plus a boy named Jellicoe) soon establish their place in the school.

Review:

Like the other P.G. Wodehouse books I've listened to, this is read by an American – if that's an issue for you, you may want to see if you can find it read by some other reader, or you may want to read it yourself. That said, I am very, very glad I listened to this rather than read it. I don't think I would have finished it, otherwise.

A large portion of this book, particularly the first half of it, is very cricket-heavy, and I don't know a thing about cricket. When Mike and the other boys played cricket, the events were described in detail, but the descriptions were jargon-filled and meant for those who had some understanding of the game. At best, I knew that one team was doing better than another, because Wodehouse said so.

With audio books, all you have to do to get through confusing or boring parts is sit there and keep on listening. I did that, and I tended to like Mike: A Public School Story much more when it had more to do with Mike and the other boys and less to do with cricket.

In the first half of the book especially, it was clear that, whatever mischief the boys got into, they were all essentially good boys. The schoolmasters recognized it, too, and would tolerate disobedience up to a certain point, although I'm not sure if the boys always understood that. I enjoyed the bit where Mike pretended his wrist was hurt so that his brother, Bob, could play. Bob had done something for Mike that Mike appreciated, so Mike showed his gratitude the only way he knew how, even though Mike wanted to play at least as badly as Bob did. It was sweet, and reminded me of the sort of thing I like and enjoy in sports manga – characters who are likable enough that it doesn't matter if I don't know the sport. Unfortunately, Wodehouse included lots and lots of scenes in which knowledge of cricket was extremely important. Again, thank goodness for audio books. This would have been too much of a slog for me in any other form.

The second half of the book, too, had its fun and amusing moments, some of the best of which star Psmith. Psmith easily stole the show – Mike had a tendency to seem like little more than a sidekick whenever he was around. Psmith was the brains behind their efforts to get a study room all to themselves, and, in a very awesome part of the story, Psmith was the one who saved Mike from being falsely blamed for painting a dog red. While I don't particularly want to read more Wodehouse books featuring cricket, I do want to read more Wodehouse books featuring Psmith. The only negative thing I might have to say about him is that he did not come across to me as being the same age as Mike. I imagine I'd like him even more in books where he is actually an adult.

In the future, I plan to either avoid or listen to (rather than read) Wodehouse books that I know will heavily feature cricket. However, I would still recommend reading/listening to this for Psmith alone. As nice as Mike was, Psmith was much more fun, and I look forward to Wodehouse's other Psmith books (Psmith in the City; Psmith, Journalist; Leave it to Psmith, which I haven't been able to find as a free e-book).

If you'd like more than what I've listed below, I'd suggest working your way through other British school stories for boys in Project Gutenberg or LibriVox.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Gold Bat (e-book) by P.G. Wodehouse - I shouldn't list books by Wodehouse as read-alikes for Wodehouse's books, but I'm doing it anyway. Like Mike: A Public School Story, this is a school story set at Wrykyn.
  • A Dog with a Bad Name (e-book) by Talbot Baines Reed - I haven't been able to find out much about this book, and I haven't read it yet myself. I added it to this list because it's another British school story that involves sports.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - I imagine people are more likely to have read Rowling's book than Wodehouse's, but, just in case, I thought I'd add this one to the list. Yes, it's a contemporary fantasy book, but it's also a school story. It also features sports, but, unlike Wodehouse's book, Rowling doesn't assume readers already know about the sport (Quidditch), since she invented it, so she takes the time to explain it.
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) story by Yumi Hotta, art by Takeshi Obata; Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - I was so sure that there must be manga on any topic imaginable, but I have yet to be able to locate sports manga featuring cricket. Instead, I'll suggest this. It deals with Go, a board game, so it's technically not a sports manga, but it has so many of the same features of a sports manga that I'm not sure it matters. It has a main character who starts off dismissive of the game and gradually learns to enjoy it and to want to be better at it. It also has fierce rivalries, intense matches, characters thinking about strategies, new friendships, and more. I have written about volume 12 of the manga.
  • Big Windup! (anime TV series) - If you'd like to try something a little different but that still features a sport, I highly recommend this series, which deals with baseball (and is still understandable, even for those who, like me, know little about baseball). This series is even more sports-focused than Mike: A Public School Story, but the story does occasionally take a break to show the boys trying to get their grades up so that they can stay on the team. I have written several posts about the anime. Unfortunately, the manga on which the anime is based is not legally available in English.
  • First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - Another one that's a bit different. This is a YA fantasy novel featuring a female main character. If you liked the "school friendships and clashes" aspects of Mike: A Public School Story, you might like this book. Kel, the main character, is the first girl to officially become a page in the kingdom of Tortall. She faces bullying and hazing, but she still manages to make friends along the way. I've written about the audio book version of this.

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