This is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever had to write, because I’m about to embarrass myself big time. I have to share with you what this book did to me, but I can’t talk about it without also mentioning its marketing and the role of the author.
I first heard about 8th Grade Super Zero in the beginning of the year. How?
Every time I visited a blog, it seemed as if Olugbemisola‘s name popped up in the comment section. She has a name that is hard to forget and so is her “voice,” though the comments were most of the time short.
Then I heard about her book, 8th Grade Super Zero. The title intrigued me.
Then I read an interview of her. Then another. Then saw the book trailer: Olugbemisola has a unique voice, one that is fresh and witty, wise and disarmingly honest, unapologetic yet polite, never shying away from a difficult topic. Noticing these qualities, I couldn’t imagine her toning it down in her book: I was hooked right away and dying to read 8th Grade.
The first lines hit me:
“Everyone knows what’s up, because it’s the first day of school and I set the tone.
Donovan’s opened his stupid mouth one too many times. He’s too much of a coward to say anything to my face, and the punk takes pleasure in harassing people when I’m not around.”
Then I lost myself and moved to Brooklyn.
8th Grade Super Zero is my Twilight in a “social justice” kind of way. I compare it to Twilight because of its effect on me (note: I also blame the simple and effective marketing strategy. Dear Authors, blog tours work. It’s really worth your time). I was a starving student when the book came out and couldn’t purchase it right away, but have I heard/read about it in 2009, I would waited for the bookstore to open the day of its release-trust me-would have grabbed the first copy on the shelves. I became a teenager again when I received 8th Grade Super Zero to review. I gazed at the cover, I smiled, I put it in my bag and carried it with me everywhere I went, glancing at it every chance I got, between classes, before sport, staying up late to read it, telling everyone I knew about it (yep, grown-ups too, and the family oversea).
You have to understand. I love books, but the last time I acted like this was in high school.
I’m amazed that this is Olugbemisola’s first book, because it is ridiculously well written and balanced. I didn’t read it just once, but I (still) keep going back and forth and re-read my favorite scenes–high school, I told you! As a writer I learn from the way she developed her characters, every single of them. They are round, they have flaws, they feel real, they are real. When dad snaps, the reader knows where that is coming from. The archenemies are like the ones you encountered back in your high school days, or like the ones your kids have to deal with today. That said they’re not just planted there for the sake of the plot.
So, we have established that the writing alone if worth getting your attention. There is no surprise there: Would you expect less from someone who studied under Madeleine L’Engle and Paula Danziger?
Reggie is 13, and he had one of the worst first day ever at school. That experience resulted in a nickname that makes him sick every time he hears it. It also made him the less popular kid; however his trials are not enough to kill his creativity. Indeed, Reggie works on a comic book about a super hero called Night Man. His friend Joe C. serves as illustrator.
The plot goes beyond that, though. 8th Grade Super Zero is a coming of age story that shatters stereotypes. I was touched by the portrayal of the school life of homeless kids. I smiled at Reggie’s attempts to figure out God, and enjoyed reading about his doubts, shared and cheered his character’s growth while he dealt with bullyism.
Because of its topics, because of how flawed yet proactive the characters are (look for a strong female/activist lead in Ruthie, who is Reggie’s childhood friend), because of the humorous voice, 8th Grade Super Zero should be in every school library, in my humble opinion. Its popularity with teenagers is poised to grow.
This is one book I would nominate for an award.
Edited 06/28/2010: changed “high school library” for “school library” in one of the last paragraphs.