I really try not to get into the jokey reviews here. If I’m reviewing a Marvel prose novel, it’s something I like and I’m getting into why. I don’t go in for easy targets. Are you going to be impressed if I scream at a novel based on a kids show? It wasn’t made for adults and trying to review it like it was makes me look bad.
So what I’m about to do isn’t that. I’m going back to when I was 10. Putting myself back at Willowbrook Mall with my Dad on a Friday about to see Iron Will the next day with a friend. (Yes that’s how I first read this book.) Let’s approach this as what it is. We’re doing so because of the reboot of course. It’s timely.
I have to begin with what I’m sure is an easy question: Is Saved by the Bell any good? The answer seems easy. Hell no it’s not. It’s a very silly, super white, very simple show aimed at kids. The characters are one note. The social strata is weird. It’s implausible. It’s not high school at all.
And even saying all that, I think that’s also missing the point. It was a sitcom for kids. It wasn’t high art. And it’s actually kind of underrated in how effective the comedy was. The cast was filled with talented comic performers who gave all they had. The show did take on gender politics shockingly head on in a way that’s aged beautifully. It was for kids and it was damned good at that.
So I feel like I chose a good book to exemplify the show. That Old Zack Magic is by the main writer of the tie-ins, writher Beth Henderson, using the pen name Beth Cruise. She is a prolific romance writer and based on the evidence here, a solid workman. This is extremely well written actually with a solid A plot, a fun B plot, and decent humor throughout.
That plot? After weird events, Zack and his friends break into the school at night seeking a rumored ghost. They don’t find a ghost. What they find instead draws them into a plot involving INS, death squad refugees, and journalistic ethics. I’m seriously describing the plot of this book. By contrast the B plot finds Lisa giving a makeover to a tomboy to get her away from her boyfriend and to Slater. Oh and this is very much a Slater/Jessie book. Their contentious romance is a big plot.
So this works. Let’s get that out of the way. This is an effective 127 page kids book. It’s a quick, silly, fun read but it’s got a lot of weight all the same. The plot about the refugee is shockingly potent in part because the book stops to analyze at least a variant of Latin American crime. It feels like this bugged Henderson and she smoothly found a way to get it in. The book works.
The b plot is fun too. Sure you can see where it’s going from the start but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s even an incisive study of how women are pressured to play dumb to attract men. Seriously this franchise took this seriously. I cringe less at SBTB than Buffy.
One flaw? Read the back cover. Slater is renamed Mario. The plot is almost all wrong. Even the title is weird. Zack is a side character really. He only matters at the start and end. They just didn’t care here.
Look, this isn’t a book to seek out as a lost classic. But if you’re nostalgic it’s shockingly effective. It made me want to drop back in on a few more of these. It’s a quick blast to remind you that yeah it was fun.