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Margot Leitman
Gawky: Tales of an Extra Long Awkward Phase
Seal Press / Perseus Book
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-580-05478-2
Publication Date: 05-07-2013
258 Pages; $16
Date Reviewed: 09-11-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Non-Fiction  General Fiction

Any tale well told is worth reading. Audience capture is essentially an on / off switch. Margot Leitman proves this with a grand smile and a big heart in 'Gawky: Tales of an Extra Long Awkward Phase.' It's a coming-and-going-of-age collection of stories that reads a bit like a novel, a lot like a memoir and is hard to put down. It really doesn't matter what sort of book you think you like. 'Gawky' grabs you with a wonderfully likable voice and insights into average life that are themselves anything but average.

The setup here is not apparently complex. Leitman underwent an early growth spurt. She was much taller and to a degree more mature-looking than her counterparts at school. In a straightforward, you're-sitting-in-the-room-with-her manner she tells her story through the age of nineteen. She grows up in American suburbia. Her family's not rich and they're not famous. She's immersed in pop culture and has friends but doesn't in general fit in. She embarrasses herself regularly and is not always aware of doing so.

The stories that unfold as Leitman tells her tales are consistently hilarious. She's honed her skills as a stand-up storyteller, but managed to toss all that away and learned to write the stories in manner that they can be read in and experienced in much the same way they might feel if she were telling them to you in person. Leitman manages a real coup here, putting us in the same room with her while she's writing away. There's an overheard quality to the prose that makes the humor work all the more effectively.

Make no mistake about it; this book is quite funny, and masterfully written as a comedic work. Leitman knows that written comedy is as much a matter of pacing as is the spoken variant, and she works this with such precision that we're never really aware. As readers, we're just there with her in her quirky, funny, but somehow everyday and average life. Bringing off this union of opposites is the source of a lot of humor, of course, but she also generates a fair amount of narrative tension. 'Gawky' is not just a series of anecdotes strung together. It's a smart, well-told story about an all-American girl growing up funny.

'Gawky' is an interesting example of evaded expectations for the reader. No matter what you think you are looking for, you're going to find something that is entirely enjoyable about Margot Leitman's book. It's deceptively simple to pick up, but quite compelling to read. It will make you laugh a lot yes, but more importantly, it will make you care. When you start the book, take care. The switch will be thrown, and you, the audience of one for Leitman's story, will be captured and remain so even when you've finished reading.

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