The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

Book review by
Abby Aldrich, Common Sense Media
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin Book Poster Image
Funny, overweight, deaf -- the new kid is an unlikely hero.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Teaches kids a few things about deaf culture and hearing-impaired discrimination.

Positive Messages

Will has to overcome difficulties that he faces as a deaf person in a hearing school.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Will, Devon, and Ebony are great kids who team up to solve a murder. Devon helps Will adjust to the new school. Will's teachers are largely unhelpful. His parents are supportive and concerned. 


A character is pushed to his death in a mine, but it's not described. Some mild bullying.


Mild innuendo. A teacher has an affair with a student. A teenager is pregnant. A student runs a website that features pictures of scantily clad girls in his bedroom.


Some swearing: "ass," "piss," "s--t," "bastard," and "goddamn." Also, slang like "banana hammock" and "retard" are used.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A bus driver is a suspected pot dealer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this story about a deaf teen coping in a new school has some sexual content, including mentions of a teacher-student affair, a teen pregnancy, and a student who runs a website featuring pictures of scantily clad girls in his bedroom. Also, a bus driver is arrested and suspected of dealing pot and a teen boy is pushed to his death in a mine.

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What's the story?

On a class field trip to a coal mine, the popular quarterback at Carbon High falls to his death. Not a great start to Will Halpin's first year in a mainstream school. After leaving the school for the deaf, Will finds himself still overweight, still deaf, and, despite a wonderfully sarcastic wit, now the least popular student in school. He feels invisible, seated off to the side like a "houseplant" in all of his classes so he can more easily read the lips of the teachers and the students. When he's befriended by the second least popular kid in school, they decide it's up to them to solve the mystery of the dead quarterback, Hardy Boys style.

Is it any good?

THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN is a great story about unpopular hero, Will Halpin. Will's deafness and weight make him a misfit in his new school, and any kid who's ever felt less-than-popular will relate to him. His gift for sarcasm and self-deprecating humor provide many laugh-out-loud scenes, and his courage when it comes to investigating and telling the truth about the quarterback's mysterious murder is inspiring. Will's experiences in both the school for the deaf and Carbon High give insight into deaf culture. Misfits of all kinds will love this book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about discrimination. Will points out certain things that discriminate against the hearing-impaired in his school. Had you ever thought about those things? What other things could be seen as discrimination for people like Will?

  • Will says he identifies with the ghost in the history book because he's largely ignored and always on the periphery. What other books can you think of that highlight the quiet underdog? Are there more books about outgoing characters?

Book details

  • Author: Josh Berk
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Publication date: February 9, 2010
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 17
  • Number of pages: 256
  • Last updated: July 13, 2017

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mystery and coming of age stories

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