Schmidt does an admirable job of establishing Holling's personality, temperament, and character traits in the opening pages of this humorous novel that deals with important issues. Right from the outset, Hollling's lighthearted ironic tone marks him as the reader's friend and someone with whom the reader has an instant interest and rapport:
Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun
And let me tell you, it wasn't for anything I'd done. If it had been Doug Swieteck ... it would have made sense.
Doug Swieteck once made up a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you.
As Holling walks home to The Perfect house, his recitations about "all the cement squares ... perfectly white" of which none "had a single crack" and about the border of "perfectly matched azalea bushes" and the two windows and the two dormers and the screen door that never squeaks reveals the hollow feeling Holling has that is not assuaged by (but possible caused by) The Perfect House that is in the nearest proximity to "right smack in the middle of town." This secret, cement-revealed part of Holling's life creates a sympathy with him that adds depth to the amused friendship inspired by his first accounts of his life in Mrs. Baker's class.