Friday, August 15, 2008

Loser: A Book Review

Title: Loser

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: HarperTrophy (July 29, 2003)
Hardcover: 218 pages
ISBN-10: 0060540745
ISBN-13: 978-0060540746

Jerry Spinelli’s Loser is a special book. The first sentence “You grow up with a kid but you never really notice him” hints that this story may be about a kid with low self esteem or about a bully who beats up on a kid. Well the book is not about either one of these scenarios. The book is about a kid who really likes himself and accepts himself as he is despite the cruelty of his classmates.

At first he sounds like a kid who has ADD. Donald does not like to wait on anything. He has trouble being still and thinks he runs faster than anybody. He is the first one at school every day. You might think a kid who loves school this much would be a straight A student. Not so for Donald Zinkhoff. His writing is sloppy, he can’t stop giggling in class when the teacher says a funny word, he’s clumsy, can’t play the flute, “Twice during the number Zinkhoff’s flute yips like a pinched sister. …and Zinkhoff never notices.”

However, it doesn’t take much to make Donald happy. He wants to sit in the front row but because of his last name, Zinkhoff, he is always last in everything until 4th grade when his favorite teacher reverses the seating order. “Yahoo” Donald says!

The story chronicles Donald’s progression from first through sixth grade. It is a journey of a boy with a lot of social problems. Most of them diminish but never disappear. I kept waiting for Donald to triumph in some way but the author did not have that in mind for Donald. His poor performance at sports makes him an outcast. When he blows a race that costs the school the championship, the other kids name Donald Loser!

This story is more for adult readers because I don’t think many teenagers would want to read about a 12 year old and not many 9 to 12 year olds want to read a slow action story. Middle grade kids will enjoy this book when read with adults. There is some action at the end when Donald gets lost in a snow storm and doesn’t even know it.

The book does demonstrate the pure love of his parents and sister and I do believe it shows that a strong family unit can overcome imperfections that all of us exhibit at one time or another. Also, I think this is the reason Donald is a success in a losing way. He may not measure up to what other kids and adults think he should be but because of the love of his family he will survive in a hard world.

About the author: Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal; Wringer, a Newbery Honor Book; Crash; and Knots in My Yo-Yo String, his autobiography. He grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he once dreamed of becoming a major league baseball player. All of this changed at age 16, when his poem about a football game was published in the local newspaper. From then on, he wanted to become a writer.
Write it down,