I received this book for free from Penguin Audio in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This audiobook has been sitting on my computer since the book was first released, which is pretty sad. Sometimes it’s hard to get to things though, even if I have good intentions when I request it. When I first received this book, I was simply interested in reading a book that 50 Cent would write for kids. What led me to finally get to it is my recent interest in reading books about bullying (along with the 5,000 other interests I have). There are plenty of other books on bullying, but I happened to own this one so I decided to try it out.
Playground is about Butterball, an overweight middle school kid with a lot of anger. The center of that anger is slowly revealed in sessions with a social worker he’s required to attend after beating up his best friend on the playground.
I have to say, I’m impressed. I think 50 Cent wrote a pretty good book with a very good message. The book begins with Butterball’s first session with his social worker after getting into trouble. Butterball moved to a new town with his mother a year or two prior to the incident, after his parents split up. He’s used to an urban life and has to acclimate to his suburban surroundings. This book touches on a lot of different things: divorce, homosexuality, class, poor parenting, and bullying. The way in which bullying was dealt with surprised me. I assumed Butterball would be the bully, but he only lashes out a couple of times due to anger. The reality is that Butterball himself is the one being bullied for his weight, and it’s subtle. No one is beating him up or stuffing him in lockers. They’re calling him Butterball and manipulating him by acting like his friends. Butterball is just a confused and scared kid dealing with some difficult things. Even if he makes some bad choices, I had to love him. Honestly, that’s what he really needs: some love and someone to listen to him. The supporting characters aren’t quite as strong. His father is barely there. His mother wasn’t developed as well as I would like, but I still liked her character. His social worker was the other character I really enjoyed. It’s people like that, who take the time to listen and care, who can help kids deal with the kinds of issues Butterball has.
Dwayne Clark did a pretty good job with the narration. There was really good variation between the male and female voices he did. I would have liked a little more variation between the different male voices, though. The syntax was good, and there was some emotional depth to the narration; I always appreciate that. The production was spot on, as usual with Penguin Audio. There’s no real reason I would recommend the audio over print. I think it would be just as effective of a story in print, so that’s up to you.
I recommend Playground to readers thirteen and up due to violence, language, and references to alcohol.