8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

misssusan's review against another edition

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social justice bbs! this was a really cute book about learning how to make a difference and figuring out what's important and generally being really baller fourteen year olds. i started reading it on the bus yesterday which was unfortunate as it meant that once i got to work i didn't want to have to sign in and stop. stayed up till 3 am reading it once i got home! 4 stars

book_nut's review against another edition

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Excellent, honest, uplifting look at God, race, and finding oneself.

leslie_d's review against another edition

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Reginald Garvey McKnight would have preferred to begin the 8th grade school year as King of Clarke Junior School (a High Academic, Study Intensive Middle School). Instead, he fast becomes known as Pukey and is made a school-wide laughingstock. Such a reputation is not easily overcome as Reggie tries to figure out who he is and how to let the world see him for his better attributes (not his weak stomach). He isn’t the only one. 8th Grade Super Zero is ripe with characters trying to figure out what they would become; some forced to re-invent themselves for the umpteenth time (as adults are not exempt from Rhuday-Perkovich’s cast list).

There is a class-presidential election taking place where the subject of the popular vote versus the best qualified comes into play—as well as each candidate’s motivations. This is a perfect opportunity to stand up and make a difference, to give popularity a run for its money, but how determined is Reggie to make the effort and put himself out there for probable ridicule? And isn’t there enough going on?

Reggie’s youth group teams up with National Public Radio (NPR) to collect stories from those living in the neighborhood homeless shelter Olive Branch. Youth group is a place Reggie feels comfortable being himself and finds leadership roles a natural outpouring of his confidence and his growing interest in the homeless. His own father has been unemployed too long now and Reggie begins to recognize some of the children at the shelter from school—one is his assigned “Little Buddy” kindergartner Charlie. Reggie takes a passionate interest in the shelter and involves his schoolmates. He would like to see the school form a community service partnership with the shelter and makes this one his many platforms as he decides to become a late-runner in the elections.

“I walked to school thinking of those people at the shelter looking like they’ve got no reason to keep going…but they were still moving forward. By the end of our interview, George was talking about going back to school to get a master’s degree. In our meeting at the end of the session, Jeff said his partner wanted to build birdhouses, and I watched this little girl pretending to be an astronaut. That takes a kind of faith that I’ve never even thought about before. (75)

As Reggie begins to take interest in the community around him, he discovers more about his own self and grows in confidence and stature. It isn’t without numerous complications, of course. There is the bully who goes out of his way to torment Reggie and friends. There is the stress of one unemployed parent, and one overworked. His older sister creates her own conflict-ridden dynamic. His long-time friends are undergoing their own changes, interests begin to diverge, and the way each sees each other begins to fracture under the strain (which isn’t the worst thing).
Creating change and/or surviving it can be difficult; Rhuday-Perkovich keeps things real, and she keeps it hopeful. Middle-graders able to take interest in self and others simultaneously? There is no false optimism in 8th Grade Super Zero. In Reggie and his peers, the author does not see a generation of young people who are incapable of seeing the community/world around them and making a difference. She acknowledges that life at their age is not easy and there is a lot to sort through, there is a lot to take in, but no one runs the gamut alone, we need each other, and we all want to be worthwhile. Rhuday-Perkovich continually asserts the obvious but not easy: that One informs and is informed by their peers, their families, their communities. This is good, and it can be scary. Embrace it and watch yourself become someone with potential–Yourself.

Rhuday-Perkovich’s writing is really nice. She creates an earnest, charming, and articulate first person narrative with Reggie. There is a lot of heart and a lot of humor. And can I say how refreshing it is to see the portrayal of a young person pursuing their spirituality/working out their Faith? The novel isn’t too message-y, and refuses definitive answers for every inquisition Reggie would/might pursue.

Issues of race are mentionable. Reggie’s best friend Joe C. is white and is sometimes a source of embarrassment for him; and their cultural differences create some divisions in their relationship. Joe C. as a character has to overcome some of the skewed (harmful) suppositions his father makes concerning the homeless. Reggie’s father works from a certain hierarchy of acceptability. It’s the world the characters live in that the author wouldn’t ignore, however she doesn’t necessarily dwell. She infuses a level of authenticity into her setting/characterization as she acknowledges the implications rather deftly.

There is a lot going on and to take in Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s 8th Grade Super Zero and the reader can, for the most part, dwell at will. I can’t say the pacing isn’t somewhat weighted down at times, but once invested Reggie and friends are compelling. A reader is bound to see some aspects of themselves in one or more of the characters–a revitalizing mirror in a catalog of predominantly white and affluent, often broken, often trendy (even in rebellion), and blinkered.

I see this novel as a good one for middle-grade book clubs, class readings, for youth group**; both boys and girls should be interested. The novel is relevant without need of outside guidance. The text would engage and it’s accessibility is capable of instigating more than enough conversation. It doesn’t insult the reader by being too simple, but it doesn’t require a degree to decipher either.

8th Grade Super Zero is also just flat-out entertaining, so if you need an easy recommendation for summer into autumn reading…


In a lot of ways 8th Grade Super Zero reminds me of Crystal Allen’s How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy (Balzer & Bray, 2011). Both have wonderful narrators/protagonists with whom the reader can commiserate and still enjoy their individualized thoughts/struggles/triumphs. Both delve into the relevant subjects of keeping friends, trying to reinvent one’s self, and boys in relationship with their parents and siblings and girls. If you like one, chances are you will enjoy the other. There is also a bit of Francisco X. Stork in Super Zero, (maybe an earlier-reader version); which can only be a good thing.

L @ omphaloskepsis

fantisian's review against another edition

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3.5–maybe could have been higher, but wasn't a huge fan of the ending.

kevinhendricks's review against another edition

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The history of this writer alone had me hooked: Nigerian father, Jamaican mother, married to a man of Croatian descent, she studied writing with Paula Danziger and Madeleine L'Engle.

The book was good too, not blowing me away, but offering a solid story of a struggling teen that felt very real and didn't shy away from real issues. Reggie, the main character, is dealing with his father's unemployment, his church youth group is a major influence on his life and he starts going to a homeless shelter as a one-time project and it becomes something so much more. Reggie is this dorky, outcast kid who isn't always perfect but finds a way to struggle through and make the right choices.

devafagan's review against another edition

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I was impressed by how many different threads got wound into this book, and it's refreshing to see characters of faith represented as normal, everyday people living their lives.

Now what I want is a companion book with the excellent Ruthie as the main character...