IQ "'Whatever,' I say. 'I'm not a politician. I'm a...' I stop, because I really don't know. Most of the time I feel like a blank page and everyone else picks up a pen and fills me up before I can even get my thoughts together." Reggie pg. 85
Another very quotable book with a fantastic group of characters! Reggie "Pukey" McKnight has decided to run for class president of his 8th 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. Reggie passionately believes in helping the homeless, specifically at a local shelter his youth group attended, Olive Branch. Reggie hasn't been popular since the incident (not that he was every really popular, but now he's even more uncool). 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, he's doing it for the underdogs.
I love all the characters in this book they are my favorite middle school students in fiction right now. Reggie is so lovable flawed (is that even grammatical correct?). He's human, he makes mistakes and he tries to fix them. He's a sweet kid and genuine. At first, he wasn't thrilled about helping out at a homeless shelter, but he grows to really like his work there and he feels what he's doing is important and in a small way makes a difference. He's very dedicated and the 'lovable loser'. I loved how his 'incident' isn't really explained until much later in the novel, it keeps you guessing (although you start to suspect what it has. *hint* look at his nickname.) and it's absolutely mortifying. Props to him for having the courage to stay at his school, I would have transferred! I also love Reggie's Jamaican parents. His father can be really funny, but it was also sad because his father is unemployed in the novel and that's something lots of readers can relate to. His father's Caribbean ranking system is particularly funny "Trinidad is above Barbados and Guyana in Pop's personal Caribbean Country Rankings, but nowhere near Jamaica 'the crown jewel'. Don't get him started on Haiti." I also enjoyed reading the poetry of Black poets, especially Jamaican Black poets, many of whom I had never heard of. I've been introduced to some great new poets that I want to continue to read. Reggie's mother isn't as developed but she's not completely regulated to the wings. We see Reggie's older sister Monica grow up as well, she starts to change from being a big, scary jock to a big, scary 'girly girly'. Reggie and his father can't figure it out, but all girls and older readers (regardless of gender) will understand.
Ruthie is another great character. She's compassionate, religious (but not to the point of fanaticism), loyal and 'a strong black woman.' She's great. Also she's Jamaican and proud. She's revolutionary and can be a little bossy and overbearing, but she truly wants to do the right thing. She's very up to date on current events as well as history, especially Black history. I think she's realistic, because there are very mature 8th graders and I knew a lot about history and current events when I was in 8th grade because I loved to read so I read history books and newspapers, especially those about Black people. Joe C. is wonderful as well. He's "the whiteboy" who wants to be a DJ. He and Reggie have to deal with the more subtle side or racism around each other because they realize that they do make certain assumptions about each other based on stereotypes. They are true friends and it's great to see their friendship grow. I also loved how the popular guy isn't demonized, Justin is running for class president and everyone thinks he's going to win. He's popular, he is THE MAN. Surrounded by fawning girls and every guy wants to be him. He's a jock and smart. And he's a decent guy. He's very three dimensional and I liked getting to know him and I probably would have had a crush on him myself in 8th grade ;)My only problems with the novel were in the build up of the plot and the reasons behind some of the character's actions. Donovan is one of Reggie's oldest friends, suddenly they become enemies. The reasons are never really clear as to why he hates Reggie so much, I suppose the reader could guess behind Donovan's actions but I would have liked to see it explained in greater detail. He was very one-dimensional, although we do get a glimpse of another side of him, but it's very brief. I also didn't understand the whole deal with Mialonie, Reggie's crush. They seemed to get along fine, she was a little materialistic in that she was more focused on 'outside appearances' rather than 'what's on the inside.' Their 'relationship' is never really clarified, but the ending does resolve it and I was actually a little surprised (although it becomes very obvious toward the end). My only other issue with the novel was that I felt it was a little too preachy towards the end, like all these valuable lessons were being summed up in the last few pages. I think readers would have picked up on the lessons just fine without the summarizing.
I highly recommend this novel. Based on the synopsis of the book I expected to hear about Reggie's run for president right away, but it's not discussed until halfway through the novel. This turns out to be a good thing because the plot build up is well written (never tedious) and we have more time to get to know each of the characters extremely well. It reminded me of my middle school days (granted that was only three years ago!). It's funny, uplifting and very cute. I wish all middle school students were like Reggie, Joe C. and Ruthie, the world would be a better place :) The topics discussed in this novel are very real and important ones both on a more world level and a personal level. The personal angst ridden issues pre-teens faced aren't belittled and that's very important in a middle grade novel. The author's voice is authentic, the students all act and speak the way middle school students would. Wonderful characters, a good plot and good writing. Win-win. 7th grade and up.
*Since it's an ARC some quotes/events could change. But I doubt it. Also, check out my interview with the author to be published tomorrow!
Disclosure: Received from author. Thanks so much Olugbemisola!