When I was a kid, there was a Rodney Dangerfield movie called Ladybugs, in which a teen boy (played by the late Jonathan Brandis) pretends to be a girl to play on an all girls' soccer team. There were cross-dressing jokes a plenty and some gender confusion when Matthew (posing as Martha) gets a crush on one of his/her teammates. For some reason, I loved this movie as a kid. I only mention this, because all the warm feelings I had for it came rushing back when I read Eric Luper's fantastically funny book, Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets. I laughed at the same kind of jokes and enjoyed a similar gender bending adventure.
Jeremy Bender is your average guy. A little bit geeked out boating, a little bit picked on in school, and a little bit picked on by his older sister, Ruthie. Then one day, disaster strikes when, while working on his father's prize boat, he accidentally does some damage to the engine. Rather than admit his mistake, Jeremy formulates a plan to enter the Windjammer Whirl, win the $500 prize and repair the boat before anyone's the wiser. The catch? The Windjammer Whirl is for Cupcake Cadets only, and if there's one rule in the Cupcake Cadets handbook, it's No Boys Allowed. This isn't about to stop Jeremy, however, and he convinces his best friend Slater to go along with his scheme to pose as Cupcake Cadets to win the money. A couple of skirted uniforms later, "Jenna" and "Samantha" have entered a local troupe and start causing trouble wherever they go. They can't earn badges, can't pitch a tent, and can't seem to unload the eponymous cupcakes on the local populace. What are two guys-dressed-as-girls supposed to do, especially when one Cupcake Cadet gets too close to discovering their secret?
I chuckled a lot while reading Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets, and not all the humor is derived from having boys in wigs and skirts parading around town. Jeremy is a naturally humorous character, and his humor is drawn from a very believable boy place. There's a lot here about the difference between boys and girls (the scenes between Jeremy and sister Ruthie are a perfect example of these, and all very, very funny), and Luper knows how to play the line, making the book relatable to both boys and girls, which is a tricky thing to do. This book is an easy recommendation for fans of Wimpy Kid (something of which I'm always in need) and funny gals like Judy Moody and Ramona. I know Luper typically writes for a young adult audience, but I'm very interested in seeing what else he's got for the middle grade crowd, because he sure knows how to play to it.
Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper
2011, Balzer + Bray