Thursday, September 29, 2016

September Spotlight on #OwnVoices: Eighth Grade Superzero

As part of our Spotlight on #OwnVoices in September, we will feature books not published in the last year on Throwback Thursday. Today Sam looks at a novel published in 2010.

By Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2010. ISBN 978-0-545-09676-8 Click here to purchase.

On the first day of eighth grade, Reggie McKnight is picked to say the school pledge at a whole school assembly, but when he opens his mouth to speak... he throws up. In front of everyone. Now “Pukey,” as he is known, is the subject of teasing (mostly from his former friend, Donovan) at his Brooklyn school. Plus, Reggie pines over a girl who seems to be out of his league (“A cool wind blows in when the doors opens; it’s Mialonie”) and things are rough at home, with his long out-of-work dad moping around the house and his mom working extra hours to help make ends meet. Luckily, Reggie’s best friends — civic-minded Ruthie and aspiring DJ Joe C. — have his back, even when he finds himself managing the class presidential campaign of hard-to-love Vicky. But self-conscious Reggie starts to come into his own when his church group begins a service project at the Olive Branch Shelter, where he begins to discover his own superpowers — kindness, decency and leadership.

Rhuday-Perkovich’s debut works on many levels. It’s a classic school story with engaging middle school characters (though Donovan’s bad guy act is a bit over-the-top). Reggie’s family is supportive and the problems they face ring true. But the volunteerism central to the story is something that we don’t see as much in fiction for young people. The descriptions of the student experiences at the Center are nuanced and believable — Reggie is disturbed at first (“bleach and homeless people take funk to a whole new level”), but eventually finds his comfort zone and weaves himself into the fabric of the place to become a catalyst for positive change.

Rhuday-Perkovich has an ear for dialogue — how many books for older middle grade readers have realistic discussions about God and spirituality? But Reggie and Ruthie question each other in more than one memorable exchange on the subject, and their youth group leader Dave is a believably affable adult (“Only Dave laughs at his Bible jokes”).

Rhuday-Perkovich just released her second novel, Two Naomis (co-written with Audrey Vernick), which has garnered two starred reviews as of this writing. Two Naomis is surely on your radar (perhaps you’ve fallen in love with it already!), but don’t miss Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s debut; Eighth Grade Superzero is an overlooked gem of a novel.

Reviewed by Sam Bloom

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