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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers

THE MISFITS by James Howe

The Misfits is an extraordinary book by James Howe, known to young readers for his Bunnicula series.  It is definitely for a middle school audience and above.  It centers around a group of four 7th graders who call themselves The Gang of Five (event hough there are only four of them).  Addie is a taller-than-average girl with a braniac reputation; Skeezie (Schyler) dresses like a 1950’s hoodlum and maintains a like attitude; Joe favors ostentatious style and is unashamededly effiminate in many of his mannerisms; and Bobby, our narrator, is often called Fluff due to his past affinity for peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches combined with his large size.

This particular group, as I’m sure, every reader will expect, has been on the receiving end of many unkind words and actions from their peers.  They have, however, managed to find each other and develop a special friendship without which all of them would be lost in the whirlwind of adolescence.

Bobby’s narration is thoughtful and funny and insightful–the best of the 7th grade voice.  Within the framework of a school student council election Bobby and his friends invent a “third” party for the election:  the No-Name Party.  The platform for their Party is simply the idea that we are more than the hurtful names others call us and they are campaigning for a No-Name Day:  just one day when the students in Paintbrush Fall Middle School will NOT call each other names.

Neither the premise of the story nor the brainchild of the characters is unique; what IS unique is the way in which it is developed and executed, and the perspective in which it is held.  Most of this magic takes place through Bobby’s observations of the adults and children around him.  He begins to question the names/labels others have placed on him, and that he has then placed on himself.  He begins to wonder if the assumptions he has unwittingly made about himself and his future might bear re-examination.

As Bobby both discovers and celebrates the voice that has always been inside him, he sees new possibilities for himself and his friends.  He fills with hope and determination for the life that awaits him.  Another aspect of the story that I found refreshing and inspiring is the role of the adults: Bobby’s father, Bobby’s boss at the department store, Joe’s aunt, the principal and their classroom teacher.  The adults in this story are neither afraid nor embarrassed to learn from the young main characters.  And they do so in an honest, believeable way.  I know, personally, that as a teacher I am always learning from my students (from ages 2 to 19) and this book is an excellent example of the best ways in which that happens.

This is an amazing story for anyone who has already lived through middle school or who is experiencing it now.  Name-calling, labeling and unkindness unfortunately do not disappear as we get older. We all find our voices at different times.  This story is an opportunity to either find your own voice or to celebrate and use the one you have, reagardless of your age or place in life.  I highly recommend this book for ALL readers.

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