By Kate Teves
I read The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody back in the spring, when I was putting together ideas for the Delray Beach Historical Society’s summer camp on the art of letter writing. This delightful story of an 8th grade boy undertaking a less-than-glamorous social studies project transported me back to my long-forgotten middle school years when I fell hard for new subjects (history! art! music! writing!) and believed in the possibilities of their answers—of black, of white, of this, of that.
It would take special people like teachers and crushes to show me that life is at its best when it is messy and, especially, when it is subtle.
That is the complex space this book’s protagonist must navigate as he wrestles with his limited understanding of Greatness-with-a-capital-G. His stubbornness is endearing, if only because it feels so familiar—that old habit most of us have never been able to shake.
This is a gem of a novel that ought to be more well-known than it is. In fact, I haven’t yet figured out why the author, Matthew Landis, hasn’t already joined the ranks of John Green and Neil Gaiman. He even has his own budding YouTube channel that is nipping at Green’s heels. But let’s not worry too much about that right now because this young man is well on his way—taco photo and all—to defining his fame his own way. Like the characters in his book, he doesn’t need comparisons to be extraordinary.
And it will be hard for success to stay away from somebody as original and energetic as this guy. To give you an idea of how his mind works, take a look at the image below in which he is teaching his middle school social studies students about the field hospitals of the Civil War. This is a scene that makes its way directly into The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody when the narrator describes his teacher and his love for history.
Matthew Landis may not be a household name yet, and that’s ok because for now he’s in his classroom, breathing life into history textbooks, and listening carefully to what makes kids tick. But when the word gets out and the world comes begging for more, I guarantee you’ll be hearing his name from sea to shining sea.