Jupiter Jason Glazer, a 14-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant, is trying desperately to find his identity and place in a society with mores and a language that do not quite feel like his. Living in The Yards (the industrial section of lower Northeast Philadelphia) but attending the equivalent of Central High School, Jupiter’s most immediate problem is a bully named Bates, whose “two hundred pounds was shrouded in a T-shirt formerly owned, according to his insignia, by a band called the Thrill Kill Kult,* and the fists were garlanded by two (allowed in school, but only barely) bracelets studded with metal spikes” (4). Jupiter is not looking for trouble, and when he accidentally stumbles upon a party of cool kids thanks to the hacking skills of Vadim, his compu-dude Russian friend, Jupiter meets and immediately falls for Devin Murray, the most popular girl at school. He gains acceptance at the party and at school, but other problems linger. Not only is Jupiter crazy about Devin, he is also crazy about Margie, a waitress at the Glazer family’s favorite diner, and about the girl at the record store, and about everyone else with the proper equipment. On top of his hormonal difficulties, his family may be in jeopardy of losing its home, his friendship with Vadim is on the rocks, and he has learned a secret about Bates the bully that has even further complicated his life.
I have wanted to read a PUSH (Scholastic’s older teen, high interest series) novel for a while, but I was afraid that the content would not be appropriate for my 5-8 libraries. However, Losers by Matthue Roth seemed less intimidating than a couple of the others I saw; while some books are clearly targeted for high school students only, some seemed tame enough for my middle school. Despite overuse of all relevant letter bombs, this novel rang true to me, and although the storyline near the end contains holes, the rest of the novel is a sensitive and broad exploration of the post-immigrant experience, socio-economic labeling, and the normal emergence of male sexuality (no pun intended) without any graphic sex or promiscuity. Younger teens would enjoy this material as well as older ones, because even though Scholastic recommends this book for ages 15 and older, 13-year-olds are having the same thoughts as Jupiter and they may not have enough literature that realistically reflects their stage of coming of age.
*Reviewer’s note: The full name of the band is My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and they play mostly hypnotic and pop-flavored dance music; they’re actually pretty good, but their lyrics and content tend to be graphic.