Posted by Venus on Friday, May 8, 2015
Labels: intermediate book review
Publisher: Arrow (Young)
Release Date: May 7, 2015
Union Public School is an inner city school with quite a reputation and complete with metal detectors. Definitely not the kind of place for a 'Grandma's Boy' like Kenny Wright. Struggling with bullies and secretly dreaming of great heroic deeds as Stainlezz Steel, Kenny finds himself in more trouble then he has ever gotten into in his life. First the detention that he needs to keep a secret from his G-Ma, never mind that he was found in the wrong place at the wrong time and totally innocent. Then there are the school bullies and apparently Kenny is just a walking target. When a new principal arrives (the fifth one in a year and a half), things start to look up. With things going they way they have been though, Kenny finds himself serving out his sentence by teaching Ray-Ray (the most annoying kid in school) how to play chess. In exchange, Ray-Ray teaches Kenny a thing or two about upping his street cred. Kenny isn't so sure he wants to be that guy though. What happened to the hero he wanted to become?
Even though I have read most of the Middle School:Worst Years of My Life series and was surprised by how good they are, I still went into this book with low expectations. I don't know why I have such a James Patterson bias, because he and Chris Tebbetts have proven themselves to be very good authors and whatever my hangup is, it is time to let it go.
Let's start with the fact that the setting is inner city Washington, D.C. in a school that is not so awesome and not just because it is a middle school. It is not an awesome school because no one cares or takes the time to invest in it. Sound familiar? Once they do get a principal that does seem to care, she is taken away. These people are sick of being treated like afterthoughts and I absolutely loved that G-Ma and the parents of this book fight back because they care about their schools and their children's educations.
Moving onto Kenny who is a remarkably complex character. His struggle isn't just with being bullied, but rather with trying to establish an identity separate from his grandmother. He is experiencing the beginning of growing pains and although he knows the kind of person he aspires to be, in real life that is a lot harder. Who wants to be picked on everyday? And how is a person supposed to become a man with their grandma breathing down their necks and volunteering them for stuff they don't want to do? Sure, this book could be seen as just another in a long line of "bully books", but I think it goes a bit deeper than that.
The friendship with Ray-Ray goes from, okay-Kenny-might-make-friends-with-his-bully to damn. Seriously, Ray-Ray is more than what he seems too and there are probably a lot of kids out there like Ray-Ray, just trying to make it through, look sort of tough, but lacking any kind of direction.
I did roll my eyes at some of the language as it felt like the authors were trying very hard to capture this so-called inner city feel and I fear that most of the language they use will date the book quickly, if it hasn't dated itself already. There were some moments where it felt like some of the characters were bordering on stereotypes, but for the most part I think they did their best to stay clear of those, and again it felt like they were trying a little too hard. Will kids pick up on this? Probably not, but I imagine there will be a few adults who may have a problem with it.
There is no happy ending here, but there is resolution which was another bonus point for me. The additional Stainlezz Steel graphics and storyline will draw in the Wimpy Kid readers, while doing the added job of showing Kenny's emotional state. And the reveal as to who this character is fashioned after may have made me tear up just a bit.
Please Note: I am confused as to what the actual title of this book is. My ARC says Kenny Wright: Superhero while one of the other versions says Public School Superhero. Either way works, but I would love to know which one is the final one.