"Elliot Allagash" is a fantasy for adolescents. Can Seymour Herstein, a chubby, unpopular eighth grade prep school boy consigned to chugging chocolate milks at the loser lunch table be transformed almost instantly into an athletic, straight-A class president? Yes, he can! Enter Elliot Allagash, a fabulously wealthy, martini-swilling, completely amoral classmate and his sidekick, the protean and vaguely menacing chauffeur, James; for the two of them, there is nothing that money, lies, and guile cannot buy, from the answers to the French quiz to a slot for Seymour (along with Elliot, of course) at Harvard.
Like a fairy tale, it is completely improbable---characters, plot, the whole thing. Or perhaps a better comparison is to a video game. One of Seymour's favorites is Ninja Streets, the highest of whose 256 levels is impossible to reach, unless you have the secret key. When Seymour finally gets to the highest level, the action hero character disappears and the screen goes black. "Elliot Allagash" is like that; each action (Elliot gets Seymour on TV, Elliot gets Seymour the popular girl, Elliot ruins the reputation of a restaurant that insults him, Elliot makes everyone believe that Seymour is researching the cure for a terrible disease, and so on) requires more cunning and is more unbelievable than the last.
Fairy tale? Video game? Overcoming one's eighth grade demons? Gaming the college application system? This isn't comedy for adults, it's Young Adult Literature. Appropriate to that genre, there's a nice moral ending, too, when Seymour's increasingly tenuous persona DOES go black, like the video game, and he returns to the loving arms of his nice but clueless parents.
There was one puzzle. Why does the evil young Allagash bear the name of a remote Maine wilderness? Maybe it's a clever little anagram for what Elliot does (figuratively) to just about everyone in this goofy, not very funny, and exceedingly slight novel, more deserving of a review in Library Journal than (twice!) in The New York Times. I fear that this book will never reach its true audience, as the eighth graders I know don't generally peruse the Times book review section. Maybe they'll read it on their cell phones; it's just the thing for whiling away the time in the orthodontist's waiting room.