**In honor of school being back in session in my area, I will attempt to blog about a few books that are about the kids on the periphery. We’ll see how it goes!**
**Also, the “other f word” is used in this post and in the book. I do not condone name calling, neither does the author. In fact, that’s the whole point of the book, but we’ll get to that…**
Synopsis: The “Gang of Five” consists of four seventh graders who have no friends but each other (or it feels that way, anyway): the tall Addie, the chubby Bobby, the effeminate Joe [JoDan], and the “greaser” Skeezie. Addie, the brainiac of the group, runs these forum meetings, where they discuss issues pretty much chosen by Addie. Lately, her main issue has been free speech. She refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance until everyone can have justice. When the school elections come up, Addie wants to create a third party, “The Freedom Party.”
Addie’s Freedom Party is unsuccessful. First, she wants the party to represent minorities, but frankly, the black students are not taking to the party kindly. (DuShawn joins and runs as President, but Addie can’t take the hint that he likes her.) Plus, the principal Mr. Kiley and the teacher running elections (Ms. Wyman) aren’t buying that the Freedom Party can’t work within the two-party system, especially without a good election platform.
DuShawn said something along the lines of even though he’s black, he hasn’t met much adversity, and he feels more sorry for the Gang since they are the real “minorities”… picked on, etc. Bobby hears the bully Kevin call the stutterer Darryl a dweeb. Bobby and the gang realize that their platform should be no more name calling. Their slogan is “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirits.” They put up posters with the “no loser,” “no fairy,” etc.
The posters get everyone talking, but they are also taken down. Addie and Bobby have a meeting with the Mr. Kiley and Mrs. Wyman to discuss what they did. Addie almost blows it with her temper, but Bobby very diplomatically explains the party’s purpose and why there’s a need for the No-Name Party. They convince the administration they’re right. And what’s even better? The kids are starting to think before they speak. When Joe breaks out into a West Side Story song, someone yells, “Shut up you little—” and stops. That by itself is an accomplishment, that Joe doesn’t get called a name.
On election day, Bobby gives a brilliant speech: We are more than our names. They don’t win the election, but they earn respect and they get awareness. They even get a school event called “No-Name Day.” They’re going to make it, after all.
Other drama within the book:
- Bobby has an after-school job selling ties, and his boss helps him understand what it means when we carry a name with us through life. (“If I hadn’t been called ‘sissy’ and believed it, would I be braver?”)
- Bobby’s mom died when he was in second grade, which is part of the reason he’s chunky– fluffernutter sandwiches.
- Addie and Joe like the same guy.
- Bobby likes a really shy girl but doesn’t know how to handle it.
- Skeezie is apparently a love guru who is cynical about it for himself, but that doesn’t stop him from liking a waitress they call HellomynameisSteffi.
- The reading teacher next door when I was an intern used to use this book in her anti-bullying unit. It was “banned” — a parent complained about the book having a gay character, and the school system refused to argue about it. She has it in her classroom but can’t teach from it anymore. I wish it weren’t the case, as it’s a beautiful book. I know that this book touched a lot of lives that year.
- I’ve only read and reviewed one other James Howe book, The Watcher. 1– He is GOOD! 2– I find myself in the same predicament now as I did then. So much happened in this book that I haven’t written because it wasn’t a part of the “main plot.” I want to quote all of Bobby’s speech because my words don’t do it justice. (I won’t.)
- Unlike The Watcher, though, this book can make you laugh AND cry. My favorite LOL line was when Skeezie calls the waitress “HellomynameisSteffi”, she replies, “You don’t have to call me by my full name! Just call me Hello.”
- Even the coming out scene between Joe and Skeezie has a charming humor to it. Joe says he’s gay, and when Skeezie doesn’t quite believe him, Joe tells him to look at his bedroom: an antique floor lamp, pink flamingos, a butterfly chair, posters of Madonna and Cher…
Skeezie: So? So you’re a little weird. We all are. That’s why we’re friends.
Joe: There are different shades of weird, Skeezie. Mine’s pink.
- I hate, hate, hate with a passion saying something is “gay” and I hate words like “faggot” worse than other derogatory names that are out there. When the Gang tally up names they’ve been called, they end up with 72 names all together, and Joe’s been called 26 names to Bobby’s 17. But Joe is pretty strong about the whole thing: When someone vandalizes Joe’s locker with “fagot” he yells at the usual suspect Kevin that “if they’re going to call names, they should at least know how to spell them.” Go, Joe! I mean, obviously, stuff like that hurts a lot. It hurts a little less when you know the people calling you a name are morons.
- I find it a little weird that they have a two-party system in a school government. 1– we all know the popular kid wins, period. 2– do we really have to let our screwed-up political system trickle down to the school system? Does Dem/Rep really matter in school government?!?!