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8th Grade Superzero Hardcover – January 1, 2010
The Amazon Book Review
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010 They don’t call it middle school for nothing. Reggie McKnight (aka "Pukey") is trying hard to stay under the radar after a really embarrassing start to the school year. But, he’s somehow been drawn into the middle of a big school election, a volunteer project at the local homeless shelter, and the role of "Big Buddy" for a kid in the neighborhood. How will he ever find time to finish his comic book, Night Man? Reggie might see himself as a wimpy kid, but he’s anything but as steps up to new challenges and confronts big questions about doing the right thing in a tough world. Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich's debut novel is a smart and satisfying read for teens and ‘tweens. --Lauren Nemroff
QA with Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
Q: What inspired you to write 8th Grade Superzero?
A: I was always inspired by the young people that I've met, taught, and interacted with along the way. Two groups in particular, The "Tara Belle Girls", 7th-10th grade students who participated in a discussion and creative arts group with me, and the "Peace of My Mind" crew, a faith-based teen discussion group that I led for a couple of years, were instrumental in the story's development. We had such rich, wonderful talks about our 'public' and 'private' lives -- who we'd been, who we were, who we wanted to be, and what we thought about our places in the world. In developing Reggie's story, I knew that I wanted to share what I'd learned from those teens who cared deeply about justice, friendship, community, and love in all of its forms.
Q: In 8th Grade Superzero, Reggie goes through some difficult experiences with his classmates at school. What did you find hardest about being in 8th grade?
A: There was definitely a "me" that I wanted to be, and sometimes that girl just didn't materialize when I wanted her to! When I was 13, there was a lot about me that was unusual in the context of the community in which we lived--my name, my cultural heritage, etc.--that made me stand out, and I constantly lived with that tension of simultaneously dreaming of being 'discovered' as someone special and desperately wanting to blend in.
Q: You have also mentioned that you were the “new kid” at school many times. How did you deal with it?
A: I sharpened my observation skills, and remember moments from childhood quite vividly, which I think continues to help me as a writer. I'd spend my initial few days at a new school trying to get the 'lay of the land', learning the social hierarchy and figuring out the best survival system. Once, I drafted a "popularity plan" that included notes-to-self like saying "Hi!" with a smile all day long, dotting my i's with hearts as much as possible, not rising to my feet whenever an adult entered the classroom, and avoiding use of the metric system. I don't think the plan worked. I went to one school in the U.S. at which I was the only Black person in the building; that experience brought considerable pain, and my first successful class election campaign. Two of my favorite school experiences were in Nigeria and Kenya; I remember those periods with such joy, I'd love to write about them one day. Even with the usual "Will I fit in?" questions that came with every move, I looked forward to the challenge of finding my place in a new school. I enjoyed moving around; we lived in communities that varied widely, and those experiences taught me a lot about tolerance, respect, and appreciation for community in both a local and global sense.
Q: Reggie finds great satisfaction in helping a local homeless shelter build community. How did your own experiences with service shape this aspect of Reggie’s story?
A: Reggie had the opportunity to see, as I did, that any type of service is a two-way street. He did not 'save' or 'rescue' anyone, and no person that he encountered acted as a talisman or magical figure whose primary purpose was to ease his guilt or facilitate his transformation to hero. He entered into relationships, with multi-dimensional people (I hope). The themes of small victories and personal action in the book were also major lessons learned in my own life. I found that there was just as much value (perhaps more) in being the person who offers a loving listening ear and a snack as there is in being the Big Speechmaker and shiny celebrity.
Q: Were any authors or books particularly inspirational to you growing up?
A: Such a hard question...There were so many! We had piles and piles books wherever we lived, and I could just go down and explore the shelves and discover new worlds on my own; I'm so grateful to my parents for that. A Wrinkle in Time is definitely one. My mom read it aloud to me when I was nine; I enjoyed those story times so much, and loved Meg Murry's warts-and-all courage and spirit. (And it was so encouraging to see someone like her 'get the Guy'!) The House at Pooh Corner is one of the early books that made me laugh out loud. I loved mysteries, and I was obsessed with Nancy Drew until I started wondering why she had the luxury of driving around in that little car all of the time and having a 'housekeeper' at her age. Agatha Christie was a favorite whose depictions of race and ethnicity honed my critical reading skills. Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre fed my hunger for 'hidden princess' stories, and I read them over and over again... I read and loved The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was very, very young (so young that I wanted to marry him when I grew up. I didn't quite get how the story ended at first.). I also read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings when I was too young to really understand all they contained, but again, I was devastated and awed by their power. I've always loved a story with heart, and a character with soul.
Ever since his nervous stomach betrayed him on the first day of school and he threw up on the principal’s shoes, Reggie has been universally known as “Pukey.” No wonder his main goal is now to be as invisible at school as possible. This starts to change when his church youth group becomes involved with a volunteer project at a neighborhood homeless shelter and Reggie discovers the value of community activism. Before you know it, he’s declared himself a candidate for class president, become a Big Brother and an oral historian, and more. It may be an overstatement to call Rhuday-Perkovich’s large-hearted first novel agitprop, but there’s no question about the didactic purpose. Unfortunately, in her quest to persuade her readers to her point of view, she sometimes lapses into lecturing instead of creating, and a few too many subplots slow down the narrative pace. Nevertheless, she manages to bring both passion and compassion to a story that has its moments of humor and genuine emotion, and will be highly useful for classroom discussion. Grades 6-9. --Michael Cart
Top customer reviews
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I picked this book up after multiple recommendations during a Twitter Chat (#YAlitchat). Maybe my expectations were too high but I was slightly disappointed. It's not that 8th GRADE SUPERZERO is bad--not at all! Actually, it would be a great book to teach in my 8th grade class. There are tons of lessons and research that I can totally see resulting from my students reading this book.
But as a reader, I didn't want to be preached to. Which is what I felt like was happening through much of the story. Homelessness is bad/sad and anyone can be homeless. Stand firm in your beliefs. Look beneath the surface of those around you. It's hard to be out of work. Don't judge someone based on their race. Stand up for those who are weaker than you. (Not that I disagreed with any of the points Rhuday-Perkovich brought up in her book. I just prefer it to be more subtle, if it's done at all.)
Reggie McKnight is a good character with a strong voice. He's the reason I kept reading the book. I wanted to know what happened to him. I wanted to know if he would be able to overcome the terrible nickname he earned the first day of eighth grade, when he threw up on stage all over the principal's shoes. I wanted to know if he would get the girl or would finish his comic book. And I wasn't disappointed. The main story was very engaging. But I got hung up on the subplots (the one with his sister was particularly muddy) and the lecture-y bits.
It took me quite a while to finish this book, mostly because I got bogged down in parts, especially where the author was trying to drive home a point. When I hit one of those, I'd put this book to the side and read something else. But I always came back to it. While the author needs to work on her show-versus-tell, I would most definitely pick up another book by her.
When people use the word ambitious, there's often a negativity lurking beneath it--that the author is to be admired for taking on so much, even if she didn't succeed.
Eighth-Grade Superzero is an ambitious book that delivers, and then some. It deals with important issues--homelessness, religion, social responsibility, family dynamics--but readers will hardly notice. They will be caught up in the characters' interactions. They will be swept away by the voice! What a voice! I heart Reggie! And readers will laugh from start to finish. A book with heart that makes you laugh--that's the best kind of book there is.
Give me seven stars, Amazon. This book gets seven.