The Misfits, James Howe

**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.
Bookworm’s Commentary: 
  • 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?!?!
Class Stuff: 
Grades: It depends.  I think the reading level (def. middle school level) plus the kid’s maturity level (the language is limited to the names, but let’s face it, some kids aren’t ready to read the word “fag” without laughing) would have to be factored in. Sixth grade at the earliest, esp. if they are being bullied. It was taught in eighth grade at the school I interned at.
Grade: A  It’s a great story about friendship and being yourself. For those who can’t relate to the misfits, it  gives a little bit more insight to people who don’t fit into the mold.
Happy new school year, to those who have started– here’s hoping that you can be yourself with pride.
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11 Comments

Filed under Middle school (6-8), Realistic

11 responses to “The Misfits, James Howe

  1. Helen M. Bowman

    Thanks for sharing re Howe’s best! Great choice as students return to class.

  2. RMb

    I adore James Howe. I was first introduced to him when my 3rd grade class read Bunnicula (and all the subsequent books). I still (at the age of 27) re-read that series periodically! Incidently, I picked up a book of his at a used bookstore this past weekend & when I got it home I discovered it was signed!! I’m still pretty pumped about that. 🙂
    I read The Watcher & really liked it (but, now that I’m a mom, it’s content will make it hard for me to revisit it). I never did read The Misfits, but I know I should. Thanks for the post! Good stuff. 😀

    • I love finding surprises like a signed book! Used bookstores are the best!
      Howe came to the Bristol library an hour away from me, but I didn’t get to go… I saw the information in passing and didn’t put two and two together until the day after the event. Sadness!
      I’ve never completed Bunnicula, but I got to read a chapter of it when I subbed. Definitely something I need to get! The Watcher was so intense that I think one reading would be enough for me too. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. michael skowfoe

    im normally not a big fan of these books but i still did not like it

  4. Sabrina

    I loved this book, but I hated the ending. I mean, the whole “Skeezie ended up marrying HellomynameisSteffi and they had 5 kids” was too cheesy. I wish James Howe ended the book with the surviving 7th grade part.

    • 🐯

      I like the ending, I think that this ending makes you feel like the characters where able the grow up into the people they were meant to be. It seems odd for a book in a series but that is because I don’t think he ever meant to make a sequel.

      • I think that’s an excellent point. The whole, “it gets better,” actually happens. It was pretty obvious he wasn’t expecting a sequel. 🙂
        I thought I had replied to this comment before about the ending– I get that it could be better, it is a little cheesy, and to be really picky about the example, it’s a rarity to marry anyone you meet in jr. high (I suspect because you met them in jr. high). At any rate, good thoughts, folks!

  5. Pingback: From the Closet: Realistic Depictions? | Class Bookworm

  6. Alexa

    I read this booked and I loved it! It had so much background and was so relatable to children(mostly in middle school in my opinion) and was just great! Honestly, I read Bobby’s candidate speech about 5 times. I loved that part so much, oh my goodness. It was touching and sad and happy all at the same time. Shout-out to James Howe for writing such an awesome book!

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