Donald Zinkoff is one of the greatest kids you could ever hope to meet. He laughs easily, he likes people, he loves school, he tries to rescue lost girls in blizzards, he talks to old ladies. The only problem is, he's a loser. Until fourth grade, Zinkoff's uncontrollable giggling in class, sloppy handwriting, horrible flute playing, bad grades, clumsiness, and ineptitude at sports go largely unnoticed. When he blows a race for his team, however, his transition to loserdom is complete: "[Loser] is the word. It is Zinkoff's new name. It is not in the roll book." Fortunately, he doesn't really notice. As he did in Stargirl
, Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli again explores the cruelty of a student body and how it does and doesn't affect one student, pure of spirit. Presumably if Loser
makes one child view a "different kid" as a three-dimensional character, Spinelli will consider his book successful.
The author recounts Zinkoff's story--a case study of sorts--in short sentences from a deliberately reportorial point of view, documenting the first years of the boy's life and his evolution into a loser. What makes the book charming and buoyant is that the reader, like Zinkoff's parents and his favorite teacher, appreciates the boy's oblivious joie de vivre and his divine quirks. What is less compelling about the novel is the "let this be a lesson to us" heavy-handedness that accompanies the reportorial approach. Still, Spinelli comes through again with a lively, often moving story with humor and heart to spare. (Ages 8 to 12) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
Spinelli (Maniac Magee; Stargirl) here enters the consciousness of the social pariah. Beginning with Donald Zinkoff's early days of invisibility and ignorant bliss ("Maybe it annoys you that he seems to be having even more fun than you, but it's a one-second thought and it's over," says the omniscient narrator in the opening chapter), the narrative follows the boy through his instant love for Satterfield Elementary School, then zeroes in on the turning point: "In fourth grade Zinkoff is discovered.... Big-kid eyes are picky. They notice things that the little-kid eyes never bothered with.... Twenty-seven classmates now turn their new big-kid eyes to Zinkoff." On field day in June, the fourth graders call him as they see him: "Each pronounces it perfectly. `Loser.' " Through the use of the omniscient narrator, Spinelli builds up to the boy's "unveiling" with examples of Zinkoff's uncontrollable giggling in first grade, his one-sided friendship with his next-door neighbor, and his forced poor-sport behavior on the soccer field when the hero's team does not win. Spinelli balances Zinkoff's mistreatment by his peers with abundant love from his family and the friendship of the quirky neighbors to whom his postman father delivers mail especially the Waiting Man who patiently anticipates his brother's return from Vietnam, and a toddler attached to a clothesline with a leash. Spinelli creates no idealistic ending here; instead, with a near tragedy, the author demonstrates the differences between those who can continue to see with the more compassionate "little-kid eyes" and those who lose sight of what is truly important. Ages 8-12.
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