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Totally Joe (The Misfits) Paperback – April 24, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-8–Joe's teacher asks his seventh-grade class to write an alphabiography throughout the year, presenting themselves and their lives in entries from A to Z. Joe's essays begin and end with friends, from Addie, a long-time pal and confidant, to Zachary, a new student who, like Joe, has a unique approach to life. Throughout, Joe demonstrates that he truly is a one-of-a-kind kid, mostly comfortable with himself but still struggling with common adolescent issues. It's difficult for him to relate to his athletic brother, and he misses his much-loved Aunt Pam, who moves to New York City. He also comes to grips with his sexuality, questioning gender expectations and traditional roles as he realizes he is gay. Because he is different, he is tormented by Kevin, who calls him a girl and faggot and falsely accuses him of kissing his friend Colin (a jock not yet ready to come out). Joe's narration always feels honest if not entirely credible. He and his family accept his emerging sexuality rather easily. While a range of responses is depicted, the characters seem to come around too quickly. For example, when the principal is informed of Kevin's actions, he, too, handles the situation expeditiously, and the troublemaker conveniently transfers to another school. Though idealized and contrived, the approach is novel and the conclusion optimistic.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at Washington DC Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Gr. 6-9. Joe, one of the characters in The Misfits (2001), has his say, in a voice uniquely his own. Twelve-year-old Joe knows he is gay. He played with Barbies as a young child, prefers cooking to sports, and has a crush on a male classmate. Written in the form of an assignment--an "alphabiography"--the story takes readers through the school year, one letter at a time: G is for the Gang of Five, Joe's misfit friends, who are utterly loyal when he falls for Colin. But Colin is less secure about his sexuality than Joe is, and when the rumor goes around that the boys have been seen kissing, he quashes the relationship. Joe survives the crush, and the book has an upbeat ending. ?Actually, despite a few worries, the whole book is cheerful and optimistic. Joe's family is supportive, and the kids from the nasty (Christian) family that wants to stop the Gay-Straight Alliance are removed to a different school. In other words, there's nothing terribly realistic about the scenario; in many ways, the book is reminiscent of David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy (2003), which was for a slightly older audience. Obviously, the novel will be problematic for some--not only because of the gay theme and Joe's age but also the stereotypic portrayal of the bullying Christian family. Joe himself often comes off as a cross between Niles Crane and Harvey Fierstein. But he also reacts like a kid, and readers in his situation will wish for the love and support he receives from friends and family, as well as the happy life he so clearly envisions. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 - 13 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 8
  • Series: The Misfits
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0689839588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689839580
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Howe has written more than eighty books in the thirty-plus years he's been writing for young readers. It sometimes confuses people that the author of the humorous Bunnicula series also wrote the dark young adult novel, The Watcher, or such beginning reader series as Pinky and Rex and the E.B. White Read Aloud Award-winning Houndsley and Catina and its sequels. But from the beginning of his career (which came about somewhat by accident after asking himself what kind of vampire a rabbit might make), he has been most interested in letting his imagination take him in whatever direction it cared to. So far, his imagination has led him to picture books, such as I Wish I Were a Butterfly and Brontorina (about a dinosaur who dreams of being a ballerina), mysteries, poetry (in the upcoming Addie on the Inside), and fiction that deals with issues that matter deeply to him. He is especially proud of The Misfits, which inspired national No Name-Calling Week ( and its sequel Totally Joe. He does not know where his imagination will take him in the next thirty-plus years, but he is looking forward to finding out.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Stumpf on April 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Totally Joe by James Howe follows the life of the 12-going-on-13 year old narrator Joe Bunch, and the situations within his life in the form of an alphabiography assigned by his English teacher Mr. Daly. Each chapter begins with and is structured around a letter, and each ends with a "life lesson" that Joe has learned along the way. However the book is remarkable not just for its unique and creative format, but for breaking new ground with Joe as a 12 year old gay kid. Joe is not a character questioning his sexuality; he firmly knows he is gay. However he has to navigate this, along with issues of gender, sexism, masculinity, femininity, double standards, and oppression in his middle school setting. Howe manages to deal with complex issues normally reserved for older YA or adult literature such as same-sex dating (in particular, dating someone who is closeted), GSAs, and coming out to family at this young age without ever loosing cultural authenticity. The book offers numerous insights on teenage popularity and the cutthroat war zone mentality that accompanies it, and is written in extremely contemporary language that makes the protagonist (Joe) believable and real.

The book is extremely diverse, and includes various individuals that challenge social norms, like Addie's vegetarian parents or Brian's widowed father or Skeezie's single mother. It also shows individuals like Aunt Pam who is implied to be a victim of some form of domestic abuse. The book doesn't wrap itself up in preachy diatribes on these topics, but instead weaves these elements into the average daily life of Joe Bunch.

Some critics have said that Joe's liberal family is too much of a fantasy, and to some extent that may be true.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By JVS on September 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In Totally Joe, we are presented with the main character Joe (sometimes JoDan) Bunch's alphabiography--the story of his life from A to Z, complete with chapters that end with a Life Lesson to share with others. I must say, I like the idea of this writing assignment--it's simple enough, and structured and methodical in ways that satisfyingly feed my anal retentiveness. It brings an order to the book, alphabetical, sometime chronological, and always moving along.

At the heart of this alphabiography assignment is the task to be self-reflexive. (Now what self-respecting feminist isn't into being self-reflexive?) However, despite Totally Joe being presented as a confidential, journal-type text strictly between Joe and his teacher, Mr. Daly, we know as readers that we are to match Joe's self-reflexivity with our own. (Isn't all reading about this?)

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and have been quite disappointed to see reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist that critique it for its idealism and treats its optimism as a liability instead of an asset.

What ever happened to hope? to dreams? (Or, for to letting fiction be fiction?)

I believe in the power of imagination to bring about change. Utopia should not be a dirty six letter word.

Is everything in Totally Joe completely believable? Hardly. But if it were, wouldn't that be something?
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Liberty VINE VOICE on November 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was not James Howe's life; but it may be the life he wishes he had. Totally Joe is about a boy with an incredibly accepting group of friends, a family that loves him unconditionally, and an aunt who help him come out in his own good time.

The book is a delight; a blast, a visit to a slightly different planet where being queer isn't easy, but it isn't dangerous and the hardest part is figuring out how to find your way -- pretty much like any other adolescent.

Well written as usual, and a nice sequel to the Misfits, but so far from reality (at least the reality most of us grew up with) that it can almost be filed under Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Still, I very much liked it, and recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Misfits.
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25 of 35 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on October 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Sometimes we live no particular way but our own."

--Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia, "Eyes of the World"

Joe Bunch, The Early Years:

"My mom says that I played wedding for about a year and that I kept asking everybody if they would marry me. Even Jeff. (That was the only time anyone can remember Jeff threatening to clobber me on a regular basis.) I had my Lainy doll marry my Ken doll. I also had her marry some of my Barbies. And G.I. Joe. (I hated that the soldier doll had my name. I mean, please. I didn't play with him much. He was another Christmas present from my clueless grandparents. One time when they were visiting, my grandpa asked me if G.I. Joe had been in any wars lately. I said, 'No, but he and Ken got married last week.' Every Christmas since then, my grandparents have sent me a check.)"

"A dangerous book!" (I can just hear it being thundered from certain pulpits and radio talk shows.) "Boy dolls marrying boy dolls! Obscene! Pornographic!"

As some of you already know, Alabama state representative Gerald Allen, who is reported to have had at least five meetings with President Bush, introduced state legislation earlier this year that would ban public funding for any books with gay characters or content to protect children from "the homosexual agenda."

(No child left behind unless they're gay, right?)

For those books already in the state's public and university libraries, Allen suggests that people "dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them."

"But ain't that America, for you and me."

--John Mellencamp, "Pink Houses"

You may also have a tough time locating a copy of TOTALLY JOE in Oklahoma.
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