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'Crying Laughing' Will Have You Doing Both

I know we're not supposed to judge books by their covers, but I had a few reservations about reviewing a book called Crying Laughing, just based on the title. By and large, I am not a fan of stories that make me cry. I don't mind getting teary by the last chapter because I've fallen in love with the characters and someone has just made a grand gesture or said the perfect thing — that's different. Those books don't typically have the word "Crying" just right there in the title.

That said, "Laughing" may have been the bolder word choice. Comedy is difficult enough to pull off in prose without telegraphing it to the reader. When an audience hears that something is about to be funny, more often than not they resist the clever wordplay that might have originally made them laugh. (I learned this lesson the hard way while performing a live reading — I won't make that mistake again!) Comedy in prose hits harder when the audience doesn't see it coming.

Life hits hard when we don't see it coming, too.

Tenth grader Winnie Friedman is one of those naturally funny girls — her father notes early on that she reminds him of a young Midge Maisel, and he's not far off. A former comedian himself, Russ Friedman raised her on the classics, from Abbot and Costello to I Love Lucy. When Evan, her class clown crush, convinces her to join the school's comedy improv troupe, Winnie's father is over the moon. And then when Winnie's mom forces him to announce that he's been diagnosed with what is most probably the early stages of ALS, Winnie is shocked to her core.

But the show — and life — must go on. On top of Dad's earth-shattering news, Winnie must navigate the rough waters of a new romance that doesn't exactly turn out the way she'd have liked, a strained relationship with her best friend, and a new outlet for her sense of humor, called improvisational theatre. I was impressed by the way Lance Rubin introduced and explained improv in the book, a challenge when the scenes themselves are carefully written and edited more like sketch comedy. I look forward to playing some of Winnie's improv games with my own friends!

I also enjoyed that Evan's initial flirtation with Winnie was all about her humor. It is a highly intelligent performer who can make full use of comedy's context, timing, and wit. How nice it was to experience a boy essentially hitting on a girl's mind. Much more of that in young adult literature, please!

Rubin drops bombs throughout the story, both onstage and off. But comedy has the ability to shine brightly in darkness.

Of course, Rubin drops bombs throughout the story, both onstage and off. But comedy has the ability to shine brightly in darkness, like the famous humorous interludes that peppered Shakespeare's tragedies. After all, comedy is more about things going wrong than things going right.

As afraid I was that this book would contain more Crying than Laughing, I was overjoyed to find that the opposite was true. Rubin tackles Winnie's father's debilitating disease and other sensitive subjects with marvelous amounts of humor and heart. You will need tissues by the end of this book, but I promise it will be okay. Because, just as the title promises, you will also be Laughing.

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alethea Kontis