Your kids have heard it all before: "When I was your age. . . ." Parents who use that phrase usually get the sigh and the eye roll, followed shortly by the glaze. Don't take it personally chances are it's not the message that's boring them, it's the messenger. (Well, maybe you should take it personally!) The point is, while your experiences are certainly relevant to your children's lives, the value of those experiences sometimes gets lost when you try too hard to draw parallels. Author Chris Crutcher understands this, which is why his latest book, King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, succeeds on two levels. First, it will bring back a flood of memories for anyone who ever shot a BB gun, played backyard sports or rode a stick pony. But these cultural aspects are secondary to his honest and hilarious portrayal of how kids interact and cope with the world around them.

Growing up in the small town of Cascade, Idaho, isn't easy for Crutcher. A non-athlete and something of a dim bulb when it comes to common sense (his father referred to him as Lever "Nature's Simplest Tool"), he approaches each new disastrous adventure in his life with witless enthusiasm. During the course of this autobiography, he gets shot in the head with BB guns, has his teeth knocked out with a baseball bat, is kicked out of Sunday School and humiliated countless times. Anyone else would cringe at revealing such things, but Crutcher seems to revel in sharing his embarrassments. Indeed, he draws valuable lessons from them.

So will teen readers, and adults. Despite his laugh-out-loud antics, Crutcher deals with serious subjects, from death to religion to the consequences of cruelty. He relates many of his experiences to his writing and shows where some of his characters and themes come from. Life as a boy, as any man will tell you, can be mean and bloody, funny and crude. King of the Mild Frontier is the same, so be prepared for a few gross-outs and some foul language. But be prepared to laugh and learn as well.

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