Lars Guthrie's Reviews > The Misfits

The Misfits by James Howe
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Feb 14, 2010

it was amazing
Read in February, 2010

The same criticisms that could be leveled at Howe's 'Bunnicula' books apply to 'The Misfits,' I suppose. But one person's 'corny' and 'saccharine' can be another's 'funny' and 'sweet.'

'The Misfits' broadened my appreciation for Howe, with its sophisticated plot and themes aimed at the middle school audience, and its style, which alters between the first-person narration of seventh-grader Bobby Godspeed and the stage-format 'minutes' of the meetings of his ousider group at Paintbrush Falls Middle School, known as 'The Gang of Five' (even though they are four).

The book evoked a strong emotional connection, too, making me cry as well as laugh. I'm not the only one with this combined personal and intellectual response. 'The Misfits'' central theme--the hurtful sterotyping so endemic to middle school--has inspired students, teachers and parents around the country to institute No-Name-Calling days. The novel is realistic about such efforts--name calling will always be around--and makes its points without being preachy.

For young people blithely, and often innocently, tossing out the comment, 'That is so gay' (as a character in 'The Misfits' does), reading the book might make them consider what that comment really means, on a number of levels. Any label, even less charged ones like 'dweeb,' prevent us from seeing each other as individuals. At a time of life when kids are figuring out who they are as individuals, and are so susceptible to peer pressure and bullying, it could help to recognize that.

At my far more advanced stage of life, it helps.

'The Misfits,' however, is far from mere polemic. Howe creates complex characters, keeps his story moving along, and touches on more themes than name-calling, among them connections and disconnections between adults and children, the ways we deal with death, and the hormonal urges which so intensify relationships in middle school. If his ending tied things up quite neatly, it was also very cathartic.

I've had this book and have been meaning to read it for a while. Seeing it on the 'Kids Recommend' list (http://www.c-t-l.org/kids_recommend.html) compiled by Nancie Atwell on the Center for Teaching and Learning site got me to do so. A good place to look for kids' books.

Highly recommended.

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