Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. 8th Grade Superzero. This book is for grades 5 and up, or ages 10 and above, depending on reading level (3 stars out of 4).

I admit it: I’m an old hippie. I still believe in causes, and on a good day, I am fairly certain that we can make the world a better place. I believe that peaceful protest can make a difference, and I also believe in the intrinsic goodness of almost everybody. Under the right circumstances, I believe that love is all you need and that thinking globally and acting locally makes the world better. I try to turn off the lights or the water if I’m not using them, and after getting a $500.00 P S E & G bill last month, I know I’m going to use less heat; I can’t afford to be warm at home anymore. I bring all of this up because 8th Grade Superzero by New Yorker Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich features public service, in this case in the form of volunteering at a local homeless shelter, and I like it. I think the novel has some flaws but the model and message are right on: the world gets better when we work to make it better, and making the world better makes us better as well. Protagonist Reggie McKnight learns that there is no other way for him to grow but through service to others, and if I could, I would broadcast that message on the P.A. system in my two schools every morning and afternoon.

Reggie McKnight is ready to impress his classmates on the first day of school at New York City’s Clarke Junior School. Instead, he earns the nickname “Pukey” on stage in front of the entire school. Reggie’s dad has been out of work for a while and his mom is working much of the time, so things get tense at home. Reggie struggles to find a place he feels at home until, through his church’s youth group and the reasonably cool Pastor Dave, he finds Olive Branch Shelter and he knows that this is where he can make a difference. As a bonus, Reggie can get a fresh start and respite from being Pukey: “This is not Clarke, I remind myself. I’m not a joke here [in youth group] . . . I’m feeling the whole community service thing. It matters” (50). In the upcoming school election, Reggie is conned into managing the campaign of crass overachiever Vicky Ross, and he quickly discovers that the self-centered Vicky is not interested in any of Reggie’s (or anyone else’s) ideas; she only wants to defeat perennial popular guy Justin Walker: “Vicky bombarded me with e-mails the entire weekend. I made some more suggestions for the platform, like cleaner bathrooms or a fund-raiser for a community organization, but she just ordered me to hand stuff out after school” (51). Reggie must navigate some difficult territory, both moral and physical, as he continues to pine after the beautiful Mialonie, who, like Charlie Brown’s Red-headed Girl, always seems just out of reach. Reggie will have to summon from somewhere the bravery to chase what is worth chasing and to give up what must be given up.

There are many good things about the mechanics and style of Eighth Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. The chapter titles featuring date and time effectively provide the reader a sense of time and place (and urgency when indicated) during the action. Also, the author manages many characters in the novel, and they all add to the overall tension and movement of the action; there are no unnecessary people clogging up the story. However, some of the flat characters, especially rival Donovan, seem too over-the-top in their rather stereotypical, predictable manners. Also, unlike Lara Zielin’s Donut Days that simply featured Christian characters and themes, this novel felt preachy at times, and I felt as if the author was clearly stating that activist Christianity is the only answer to Reggie’s (and everyone else’s) problems. However, it is an important part of Reggie’s life and rehabilitation, so it belongs in this work. Despite some flaws, I feel that 8th Grade Superzero packs a powerful punch, is charming and poignant at the right times, and is well worth reading.

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