Book View: 8th Grade Superzero

Posted on 8 June 2010 Tuesday


8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Arthur A. Levine Books, Jan. xx10

main character: Reggie “Pukey” McKnight

Reggie McKnight is easy to like. He has a good family, enjoys school and has a good heart. His classmates don’t always see that because of that thing he did last year. Like any typical 8th grade boy, he has a nemesis, a best friend and a crush. In 8th Grade SuperZero, we follow Reggie through a pretty critical year: it’s the year where he leaves his childhood behind. The transition isn’t easy, but Rhuday-Perkovich makes it fun to watch. In this character driven story, we see a middle class Black male come of age as he faces some pretty deep issues. As typical of MG fiction, Reggie finds his own answers as he transitions to find his own leadership potential, the ways his faith guides him and how to develop and maintain a diverse array of relationships.

I enjoyed this book so much that I contacted the author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and asked her a few questions about this wonderful book!  I would love to have met with her and chatted over a warm beverage, but our email chat contained its own warmth and friendliness. It grew into the following interview. Why is it a ‘book view”? When you combine an interview with a book review, you get a book view.

Reggie’s work with his church’s youth ministry group is an important part of the story. His volunteering with the homeless through this group helps him learn a lot about his own character.

Gbemi, the homeless played a huge part in the story. How did you decide to focus on this issue? Was it more because of things you’ve seen done, or that you’d like to see?

When I worked as a literacy coach and program coordinator, I worked with many families and children in shelters and transitional housing situations. As a youth group leader, I also did some small projects to engage my students with adults from shelters; it was an issue that came up often, as we were in New York City.  It was tricky to write; I was not at all interested in using ‘the homeless’ as a prop, or as a vehicle that only served the purpose of redeeming my main character. In fact, at first, a lot of the scenes at the shelter were only backstory, and not meant to be included in the actual work because I really didn’t want to have it appear as though Reggie singlehandedly ‘saved’ anyone or anything either. He didn’t.  But my editor encouraged me not to hold back on that, and I realized that I had to include some, to make it clear that this wasn’t a passive community, that it was one that had its own vibrancy and light. What I was interested in was showing relationships, what happens between people who travel in different circles when they pay attention to each other, when they seek and find their common humanity, or, in the case of the character Donovan, when they are so mired in bitterness or anger, they don’t.

Reggie’s family still sits down to the dinner table together and they often have meals which reflect his dad’s Caribbean heritage, like fried plantains and tomato and rice sandwiches. Tomato and rice sandwiches??

Gbemi, would you please tell me how to make a tomato and rice sandwich?

Ha! I think a sticky rice would work best.  And grape tomatoes. I’d add a little lettuce and avocado as well. But I’ll ask Ruthie, she’s always experimenting, and her recipes always change. 🙂

Is the rice part the bread? There are sandwiches at McDonalds in Taiwan that uses rice as buns. I have a photo!!

yes!!!! I was envisioning the sticky rice all packed together so that it looked almost like a rice cake (yes, i’m crazy). I’m glad to know I’m not completely crazy! one day I’ll have to see those Taiwanese McDonald’s sandwiches!

I had a student a few years ago, a Black male student, who was so tired of the stories for black males with all the heavy, violent issues. I remember him asking ‘Where are the books for kids like me’. I think we forget that not all Black kids live these hard core urban lives we see in books, or want to perpetrate that’s what they live. And to have a male main character living a middle class life, that was good!

I had students asking that same exact question! I think it’s so important for our children to have a variety of literature and all media to interact with, to see that their lives can take so many paths, and that they don’t have to fit themselves into *any* box, that each and every one of them matters.

Thanks Gbemi, for such a wonderful interview!!

I received an advanced copy of 8th Grade Superzero from the wonderful and gracious Doret, TheHappyNappyBookseller. In this same spirit of giving, I’ll be passing this book along! Register here by leaving a comment before midnight on Saturday 12 June. I’ll post the winner in the SundayMorningReads!

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Posted in: Book Reviews