Potter, Ellen. 2009. Slob. Penguin. 208 pages.
My name is Owen Birnbaum, and I'm probably fatter than you are. This isn't my low self-esteem talking. This is pure statistics. I'm five foot two and I weigh 156 pounds. That's 57 percent fatter than the national average for a twelve-year-old-boy.
I'm also probably smarter than you. I don't mean that as an insult. Again, statistics. They had my IQ tested in the second grade. I won't tell you my score. Actually, I can't tell you my score because I promised my mother I wouldn't do that anymore. I used to tell everyone. My mother said that was obnoxious. I think she was also worried about giving my sister, Jeremy, a complex. Jeremy is a year younger than I am and not the brightest crayon in the box. She's a good kid. Just very so-so in the cerebral cortex region.
I'm sure you've noticed that a lot of books start out with some kid's first day at a new school. You can see why, of course. It makes for great suspense. The new kid is feeling very nervous. Everything seems slightly sinister. Half the kids in the class look like they want to smash his face in, and the other half look like they would love to see the first half of the class smash his face in.
The thing is, when you are fatter and smarter than the national average, practically every day is like the first day at a new school.
So I'm starting this book on a Tuesday, and school has already been in session for a few weeks now. (1-2)
There were moments I had my doubts with this one. But. (And this is the good kind of but). Generally speaking, I liked this one. It had heart and soul. When I first started, I worried that it might become all issue-y or message-y. Your typical pity the fat friendless boy. (The scenes where he's almost alone at the lunch table or where he's teased in gym class about his somersaults.) And there were elements that I thought were just plain weird. Understandably weird in the geeky kind of way. But naively geeky if that makes any sense. Misplaced logic and wishful thinking. (The scenes where he spends all his time and energy on an invention that will allow him to see two years back in time.) But the character of Owen had me at hello. Here we have a very human, very vulnerable, mostly tender narrator who has a way with words. I cared. I felt his frustrations, his worries, his joys. I felt what he felt. And because I cared about Owen, I kept reading. And it was worth it. Very worth it.
I thought Ellen Potter did a great job with her characters. They were all--generally speaking--complex and multi-faceted. (From the misunderstood Mason Ragg to Izzy Shank and Andre Bertoni. I can't think of another novel--at least not right off hand--that so fully fleshes out the minor characters of a class. That makes all the characters seem so real, so understandable. I could easily want to read stories about some of these. I thought it was interesting to see the matter-of-factness regarding Jeremy. Jeremy is Owen's little sister. (Her girl name is only revealed halfway through the novel.) Before the book opens, she joins a club GWAB--Girls Who Are Boys--and begins calling herself Jeremy. (Members of the club all act and dress like boys and adopt boy names.) Jeremy is said to be small but tough. While the book reveals that the mother ISN'T at all happy about this Jeremy business, Owen seems to be so loving of his sister that this change is a non-issue. If she wants to be Jeremy, then Jeremy it is. Perhaps this comes from hopefullness on his side: to be accepted as you are. No questions asked. Part of me thinks that it would be interesting to see the world through Jeremy's eyes.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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