MG/YA Review: 8th GRADE SUPER ZERO, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

The things a book would make you do.

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.

Marketing
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?

The story
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.

For more information:
o Visit Olugbemisola’s Website
o Her blog
o Facebook
o Follow Olugbemisola on Twitter!

Friday Fun: Housekeeping, the Lion & the Mouse, & More…

Hello,

I held a little celebration party for Jerry Pinkney’s the Lion & the Mouse a while ago. The Cherry on top was the donations of a few copies of the book to places where it would be the most needed. My initial choice was the Multicultural Writers Guild, Inc, but I couldn’t get a hold of them, and the organization phone number has been attributed to someone else. My second choice was the non-profit Libraries Without Borders (LWB), which is active in various places, especially in locations struck by disasters like New-Orleans and Haiti as of lately.

Three copies of the Lion & the Mouse have then been donated to LWB. In addition, Stacee Himes, who suggested MCCAWB as the only viable acronym to celebrate award-winning multicultural books, easily won a copy as well. Congratulations, Stacee!

Regarding the awards I mentioned last week.
Karen @ Musings of a Novelista gave me a Silver Lining Award! Thank you so much, Karen. I’m still making baby steps, so that you highlighted MR goes straight to my heart. The funny story behind this is actually that we gave each other an award without knowing.

I take advantage of this opportunity to pass the award along to five other bloggers. I value all the blogs listed on Multiculturalism Rocks! I do! That said, if you only have time to visit a few today, I would warmly recommend:

Donna @ the Word Wrangler NC. Donna’s biography is impressive, from her list of publication to the workshops she held. Today is Poetry Friday on her blog. If you scroll down a little, you could hear a song she finished writing this week as well.

Olugbemisola, author of 8th Grade Super Zero (a book I’m totally crazy about!), @ Mrs. Pilkington Knits. Read about writing, crafting, faithing (love that word!) and more…

Patricia @ My Cosmopolitan Diary. I confess that one of my guilty pleasures is to look at the colorful pictures that I am always sure to find in her posts.

Ah Yuan @ Gal Novelty. When was the last time you read a great Asian middle grade or YA novel? Well, even if that was a second ago, that is not all she reviews. On Ah Yuan’s blog you’re sure to find a generous list of recommendations about foreign and American authors! She’s been interviewed at Reading in Color by Ari a few days ago!

Zetta Elliot @ Fledgling. More information below. It’s exciting!!!

This past weeks have been really special for Zetta. On her blog you can see the picture of a box cut open and full of books… Hers! Her book, A Wish After MIdnight, will be out on February 16. Here is a short description: “Genna is a fifteen-year-old girl who wants out of her tough Brooklyn neighborhood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a wish gone awry transports her back in time. Facing the perilous realities of Civil War–era Brooklyn, Genna must use all her wits to survive. In the tradition of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, A Wish After Midnight is the affecting and inspiring tale of a fearless young woman’s fight to hold on to her individuality and her humanity in two different worlds.” Are you hooked yet? 😀

There’s more good news! Ari, from Reading in Color, is hosting a celebration of Zetta and giving away a copy of AWAM. Read all about it here! I don’t know about you, but this is another book I can’t wait for. Time travel? If it worked for Genna, maybe it’ll work for me. 😀

This concludes today’s post.

What are you reading? I wish you a great weekend and lots of happy reading time.

Cheers,

Nathalie