These two novels features nerdy kids who make good – not that they save the day or get real revenge, but they get to where things are, more realistically, just fine, thanks.
ISBN: 978 0 88776 990 0
Audience: grades 5 to 9
Poor, living in a basement apartment with a wildly overprotective single mom, really, really allergic to peanuts, and dying to fit in as a perpetual new kid – let’s just say none of this is helping Ambrose avoid being the loser who gets picked on. He gets picked on enough, in fact, that his mom eventually lets him take school through correspondence, even though his being home alone at times worries her silly.
At the same time, the landlords who live upstairs have their son return home from prison. Ambrose manages to strike up a sort of partnership with him despite his mother’s warnings, and in the process, starts to break some rules in finding a way to get to a Scrabble club, which he comes to love. Everything comes to a head with this really good kid running away in order to force his mom to listen to him and see the truth about him, his new friends, and the fact that he is growing up.
It’s funny, touching, and features characters that read like real people with real baggage. I like the characters and how fully developed they are, how much Ambrose just is who he is. The mother-son relationship here is great, too – they really care about each other, even when they are pulling in opposite directions. The resolution they come to feels realistic, too, as everything is not all perfect, but the process of working together to find what will work for everyone is set out, and you know that things will be okay. This was the 2010 Red Maple Award winner, which tells you it has strong kid/teen appeal, too, since that award is voted on by kids in grades 7-8.
8th Grade Superzero
Arthur A Levine Books
ISBN: 978 0 545 09676 8
Audience: grades 5 to 9
Reggie’s school year has not exactly gotten off to a great start, what with the public puking that the school bully and his ex-friend won’t let anyone forget and all. He is a standup guy, though, and tries to ignore it and focus on his friends, the comic book character he’s been inventing for a while, and his youth group. When his youth group becomes involved with a shelter, though, he finds a new sense of purpose, and becomes more involved, looking for ways to help out and get other people involved, too. He eventually considers it important enough to get over his fears and run for class president, even though everyone right up to the principal seems to be backing his nemesis.
The run-up to elections really helps Reggie see the kind of guy he is and who he wants to be, as he comes to see school politics, his parents, and the world around him in a new light through his work at the shelter and his increasing visibility at school. Add to this his attraction to the lovely Mialonie, his father’s job issues, and his friend Ruthie’s involvement with his campaign, and he has a lot on his plate, but the pressures really help him figure things out by the end of the book. Again, this is a book that doesn’t end on the teen-movie note of him winning the election, but sees him reach a place where he’s found the things that are important to him, earned the respect and friendship of the people he cares about, and comes to a peace of sorts with the rest – a good place to be, if not a wild triumph.
Reggie is a kid of great character, but is still a real kid, with the worries and interests and a normal, imperfect boy of his age, so while he is a model parents will love, he won’t make actual grade 8s roll their eyes, either. I like his voice, and if there are times that some of the side characters seem too defined by one characteristic, I still liked them and found they brought something of their own to the story. There’s also a lot here about helping, about social issues, and about faith, all of which are important parts of Reggie’s life, without the book being preachy. While it’s a mature enough book in outlook to appeal to tweens and younger teens, there is no content that would alarm parents as young as grade five.I really liked this one, and I can see it reading well to kids who are in school with these same people and issues every day.