Elevate Difference

8th Grade Superzero

Reggie "Pukey" McKnight has decided to run for class president of his eighth grade because he believes that "it's not negative to want to make things better" and he's tired of the school elections being a popularity contest that promises outrageous things that will never get done. He hasn't been popular since “The Incident”—not that he was every really popular, but now he's even more uncool. (“The Incident” is not fully explained in detail until much later in the novel, but it’s embarrassing.) With the help of his two best friends, Ruthie and Joe C., Reggie's out to prove that you can win if you really believe in something, even if you’re unpopular. He's doing it for the underdogs.

Reggie is flawed but lovably human. He makes mistakes and tries to fix them, and he passionately believes in helping the homeless, specifically at the local shelter, Olive Branch. At first, Reggie wasn't thrilled about helping out at a homeless shelter, but he grows to really like his work there and feels what he's doing is important. Reggie is very dedicated and is a classic example of someone viewed as a “nerd” who is really sweet and hardworking.

Reggie's father is a happy-go-lucky kind of person, despite being unemployed. That's a unique element of the story that some readers may be able to relate to. Reggie’s father is constantly frustrated with his search for employment, and while not all readers may be able to relate to that, many of us have had to deal with family and friends who are unemployed or stressed out about their jobs. As a character, Reggie's mother isn't as developed, as she is working all day and spends little time with Reggie or his sister.

Other interesting characters populate Reggie's life, too. His older sister Monica grows from being a big, scary jock to a big, scary girly girl. Reggie's best friend Ruthie is a compassionate, religious (but not to the point of fanaticism) and loyal, a "strong black woman." who's Jamaican and proud. Ruthie is revolutionary, and can be a little bossy and overbearing, but she truly wants to do the right thing.

Joe C. is "the white boy" who wants to be a DJ. He and Reggie deal with the more subtle side to racism because they realize that they make certain assumptions about each other based on stereotypes. They are true friends, however, and it's great to see their friendship grow. I didn't understand the whole deal with Mialonie, Reggie's crush. They seemed to get along fine, although she is portrayed as a little materialistic. Their relationship is never really clarified until it is resolved toward the end.

My issue with this novel is that it was a little too preachy and summed up all these valuable lessons in the last few pages. I think readers would have picked up on the lessons just fine without the summarizing. Still, the plot build up is well written and the topics discussed are very real and important on both a global level and a personal one. I was pleased at how social justice was woven into the plot, and that the personal angst-ridden issues pre-teens face aren't belittled. That's very important in a middle grade novel.

8th Grade Superzero reminded me of my middle school days (granted that was only three years ago!) and is funny, uplifting, and very cute. The author's voice is authentic; the students all act and speak the way middle school students would. The book contains some of the most unique and engaging characters I’ve come across, with a good plot and good writing to boot. Win-win.

Written by: Ari @ Reading in Color, October 7th 2010