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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Also Known as Elvis, by James Howe. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"Steffi carries my float over to the booth I normally share with the Gang of Five, and I slide in after it, slumping down and slurping up the frosty goodness through double straws, wondering for the first time if what my dad wants is the same thing Jessie wishes for: to come back home, to be a dad again."

I've missed the Gang of Five. My last visit with them was in Addie's book, Addie on the Inside (2011) which I posted previously. It has been ten years in their lives (and 13 in ours) since we were introduced to each of these outstanding young people that James Howe dubbed The Misfits (2001). In more recent books, each has been able to tell their own personal story. Skeezie is the last; this book is his turn.

Seventh grade is over. While his friends scatter for family vacations, Skeezie's summer looks bleak. He assumes care of his two younger, annoying sisters and is being pushed by his mother to get a job that will supplement what she earns at her two jobs. Skeezie has never shared stories about his home life with his friends, wanting to keep it private and not wanting pity. His friends are doing well; he doesn't want them to worry about him.

Landing a job at the Candy Kitchen, and working with Steffi, allows him to open up and share some of his concerns about his deadbeat dad (who has suddenly returned to seek a connection with the family he long ago abandoned) and to listen to Steffi's advice. He, in turn, is able to help her with some boyfriend issues. Does he want his father back? How will that change the family dynamic?

I think his readers will like that James Howe tells his story from two different times in Skeezie's life. It begins with a letter from Skeezie's older self:

"Man, how did I get to be twenty-five and having a kid? It's crazy! It seems like yesterday that I was hanging out at the Candy Kitchen and got called Elvis for the first time because of my slicked-back hair and black leather jacket."

Occasionally he returns to his present self; most of his reflections have to do with when he was thirteen, waiting for his friends' return and a return to school for eighth grade. James Howe concludes his Misfits series with a pensive recollection of an earlier time. It is a series that is full of compassion,, engaging friendships and a reminder that each one of us should be free to be who we are, and to live in a world of acceptance and warm understanding. Each of the four books stands on its own merits, but is made stronger by our chance to get to know these remarkable young adolescents. Thank you, Mr. Howe!

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