Monday, April 11, 2011

Who was that Masked Man, Anyway? by Avi

It is the 1940s and World War II is the thing on everyone’s mind except for 12 year old Frankie, short for Franklin Delano Wattleson. Much to the annoyance of his mother and teacher, Miss Gomez, Frankie is obsessed with radio adventures and serials. These radio shows and the heroes they depict - The Shadow, Captain Midnight, Superman, The Lone Ranger and Sky King to name just a few – are what Frankie thinks being a real-life hero is all about. He has even made up a hero persona for himself - Chet Barker, master spy, and a sidekick named Skipper for his best friend Mario Calvino. The trouble is that between heroic adventures on the radio and those of Frankie’s imaginary Chet Barker, he has no time to do his schoolwork.

So Frankie must rely on Mario, who is not only a straight-A student but who also has a radio in his bedroom. This is very convenient for Frankie when he is being punished and is forbidden to listen to the radio at home. All he has to do is secure a board between their bedroom windows and scoot across it to Mario’s room.

Frankie’s brother Tom is in the army and the Wattleson’s have rented his room out to a medical student, Mr. Swerdlow, for extra money. Mr. Swerdlow has been given the radio Frankie used to listen to. Frankie is convinced that if he can prove Mr. Swerdlow is really an evil scientist, he could get his radio back. Frankie has already been punished several times for sneaking into Mr. Swerdlow’s room to look for proof of his evil doing.

When the Wattlesons receive a notice that Tom will be returning home as a result of being wounded, Frankie is told that he will be moving to the basement so that Tom can have his bedroom. Not happy about this, Frankie must come up with a plan to get rid of Mr. Swerdlow so Tom and Frankie can have their rooms back and Frankie will have his radio again.

Things aren’t much better at school. His teacher, Miss Gomez, is also fed up with Frankie’s radio hero adventures. She often punishes him by keeping him sitting in her classroom after school. There, he first discovers she has a boyfriend named Mitch and later that Mitch has been killed in action. She has also told Frankie that if his grades don’t improve, he will be left back and now she wants to meet with his parents. Frankie must now devise a plan to thwart this.

After Tom comes home, he spends his time in Frankie’s room, smoking and listening to ‘sappy’ music on the radio; a complete waste of good radio time as far as Frankie is concerned. Instead, convinced that radio imitates life, Frankie wants to hear all about Tom’s heroic experiences in the war and doesn’t understand why Tom refuses to speak about it. Until Tom gets fed up with Frankie’s constant asking and tells him exactly what it was like the day he was wounded, a very different picture than the one Frankie imagined. It turns out that radio doesn’t even come close to imitating life. Now Frankie wants to come up with a plan to help his brother.

Altogether, Frankie has a lot on his plate to contend with for a 12 year old, but not for Chet Barker, master spy. He spends a lot of time being punished because people are fed up with his obsession with the superhuman escapades of radio heroes. And coming up with workable plans.

There is not exposition at all in this novel. It is written completely in radio dialogue, complete with commercials, and yet it is not at all difficult to tell which dialogue is from Frankie’s life and which is the actual dialogue from a radio program. This method really provides a sense of radio stories were during the war, but also show how easily a child can lose the boundary between reality and fantasy.

At time, Frankie was very funny, but there were times when he really annoyed me. He is completely self-centered, wanting what he wants and disregarding everyone else’s feeling. It is up to his war damaged brother to give him a lesson in reality, telling him what it truly means to fight evil and that it isn’t all heroic in the sense that Frankie’s programs present it to be.

Avi has a great talent for creating a sense of life on the home front during World War II for his readers. He successfully did this in Don’t You Know There’s a War On? using newspaper headlines to convey the feelings of fear and anxiety. Here we see one of the ways that these feeling could be dealt with that would be appealing to a young kid like Frankie – escapism.

I didn’t expect to like this story, but in the end I enjoyed it every bit a much as I did Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Avi is a very creative, prolific, imaginative writer. He has written a number of historical novels and Who Was that Masked Man, Anyway? is one that I highly recommend. I only wonder how many of his younger readers know what the title means, or for that matter, know who the Lone Ranger is nowadays.

Who Was that Masked Man, Anyway? received the following well deserved honors
1992 Booklist Editor’s Choice
1992 Best Book School Library Journal
1992 NYPL One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing
1992 Kirkus Reviews, Pointed Review
1992 Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, Starred Review
1992 School Library Journal, Starred Review
1993 ALA Notable Book
1993 American Bookseller Pick of the List
1993 Booklist Starred Review

This book is recommended for readers ages 9-12
This book was borrowed from the Hunter College Library


  1. Sounds like an interesting book Alex. I'm surprised the "radio" format worked.

  2. I love Avi, but this is one of the ones I've never read. It sounds really good; thanks for the review! I'm a new follower from Book Blogs.

  3. Man of la Book: I was skeptical about the radio format, but it really did work and it is an interesting book.

    Katie, welcome and I also love Avi. This is a fun book in a way and gives lots of background into radio superheroes of the 1940s.

  4. I read this book a number of years back and thought it was terrific.