Review: The Misfits

The Misfits by James Howe

I don’t know how many more of these reviews I can write, guys. The bad books in my children and young adult literature course are all bad in exactly the same ways; it’s downright disheartening. No wonder I was reading American Gods at thirteen—which is certainly an educational experience, let me tell you that. Worse, The Misfits comes from James Howe, the gentleman who wrote the rather charming Bunnicula, a series concerning a vampiric bunny. And, as you may have gathered, it’s not good. (And making me think that Bunnicula hasn’t aged well at all…)

The Misfits follows a group of seventh-graders, all friends and, perhaps more importantly, all outcasts. Bobby, the narrator, is mocked for his weight; Addie’s height and inability to shut up have made her target; Joe’s homosexuality has made him incredibly blasé about slurs (he corrects the spelling of a slur on his locker); and Skeezie… well, he’s a 1950s greaser in the modern day. When school elections crop up, Addie immediately wants to run as a third party to buck the system, but Bobby turns it into a platform for his own idea—the No-Name Party, which advocates abolishing name-calling. Together, the “Gang of Five” (there’s four of them, if you’ve been counting) try to change the system from the inside out.

My first problem with The Misfits starts with the characters. These kids are supposedly twelve, yet Bobby is still legally able to work to supplement his father’s income after the death of his mother and they’re much too self-aware and worldly for twelve. It reminded me of The Baby-Sitters’ Club, which wanted you to believe that thirteen-year-olds could work in the town over with little to no problems. Yeah, not buying it. As for the characters themselves (beyond that common affliction of unbelievability), Bobby is nice enough; while a little bland, it’s good to see fat-shaming explored from a male perspective in young adult literature. Joe is a fairly stereotypical “bitchy queen”; I was surprised to find him, the target of so much name-calling, viciously predicting an early death for the popular girl whose only sin is trying to be nice to them even though she doesn’t like them. Skeezie’s an odd bird, although he can be fun—although his age threw his meeting with his future wife into weird territory for me. It’s Addie I can’t stand. She’s a shrill little harridan, pointedly trying to buck the system so much that she forgets why she’s trying to buck the system, which she doesn’t understand all that well in the first place. Bobby has to reign in her excess for the No-Name Party to get any recognition from the administration, which has some unfortunate implications.

In fact, The Misfits yielded up some interesting discussion in class, particularly framed around Addie, racism, and sexism. You see, when Addie decides to put together a campaign, she concludes that they need a popular kid to have any hope. She selects DuShawn, partly because he’s black; Addie assumes he’s been oppressed. DuShawn points out that they live in a fairly liberal town and that he’s never experienced any explicit racism before. The two end up together, oddly, although DuShawn does express some interest in Addie throughout the novel. But Addie never really seems to learn a lesson about this; rather, her character development takes her from being obnoxious to trying to, at least, reign in her obnoxious tendencies. So the harder, more insidious issues—like Addie’s over-zealous and tokenizing internal racism—are left unaddressed in favor of addressing the fairly cut and dried issue of name-calling.

The Misfits does do one thing well; it shows children how to empower themselves by trying to stop name-calling, walking them through steps they can take. (The Gang of Five’s anti-name-calling stickers in particular beg to be imitated.) That’s a good thing for children to learn, and I’m happy Howe is promoting it. But, like a lot of social justice novels, it abandons human, sympathetic characters and a compelling story in order to do so. I really hope the next book on the reading list is much better.

Bottom line: Like many of the social justice novels I’ve been reading for this class, The Misfits abandons human, sympathetic characters and a compelling story to drive home an admittedly good message about name-calling. Not worth it otherwise.

I bought this used book off of Amazon.

9 thoughts on “Review: The Misfits

  1. Re: you reading American Gods at 13 (and also your feelings about the young adult literature you’re reading for class). Personally I think we should just ditch most children’s literature and give kids adult books to read. The concern most people express with this (besides the exposure to themes of a supposedly adult nature) is that the kids won’t understand it. To which I respond, so what? It’s by reading things we don’t fully understand that we expand our minds. And I don’t think kids are ever too young to start doing that.

  2. When I saw the title I thought this was a review of a novel version of the film with Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe…

    When looking back on your reviews of the books you’ve read for this class, it seems that they’ve all been so issue-driven that the plot and characters take a very secondary place. I wonder how many kids are reading these kind of books.

  3. Books like this can make you stupid in a very particular way if you are a geeklet. You read them and you assume that popular kids are always mean and freaks and geeks are always nice, and that your school’s nerd herd will be a John Hughes movie come to life. I didn’t get to test the assumption that popular kids are always mean because I was so very far from their shimmery existence, but boy oh lordy did I meet some petty, arrogant, manipulative, shallow, just-plain-unpleasant freaks and geeks! The high achievers were snobby, markedly classist, and rarely actually interested in learning; the emos and the outspoken kids were rough to the point of viciousness; and the baby hipsters (this category included most of my school’s openly gay students) were bitchy and trend-obsessed. Yet I kept on trying to find my Breakfast Club, because why would so many writers and movie directors steer me wrong?

    I ended up alone, reading.

      • Sorry to do this to an old post again.

        I suffered from SSS when I was homeschooled and free to think that I belonged to the high intellectual subculture because I didn’t actually interact with the high intellectual subculture. That dream died fast when I entered honors classes at my public high school. Since then, I have largely avoided SSS because I’ve noticed that the quality of people’s souls does not improve or degenerate as they move in and out of the semi-mainstream subcultures. If wearing Converse doesn’t prove that I’m a good person, who cares? The seams irritate the sides of my feet anyway.

        An attack happened when I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 15. Yet I slowly began to realize that a lot of the bad things (most of them, really) that happened to me happened because of ableism, and that the cool-by-semi-mainstream-definitions autistic was a creature of autistic people’s own lonesome imaginings. As I said, geeks didn’t like me. I wasn’t a special snowflake – I was a deformed, lopsided snowflake. The only action to preserve my emotional integrity was to drop the snowflake narrative and switch to thinking about success, happiness, and being a good person – or at least my definitions of those things.

  4. So you don’t like the characters? Why not? Because they’re not perfect? And who said they have no problems? How many problems did you have in seventh grade? And I don’t think that you read the book very closely! Addie wants to be heard, not “buck the system”. She is hidden by the names so she needs to stand out. I, frankly think that “bitchy queen” is a terrible name for Joe also. Come on! People who read this review are wasting their time.

    • I didn’t like the characters because I found them flat and unbelievable. For instance, all of them band together to point out how bad name-calling is, yet Joe wishes death on another character.

      I don’t mention the characters having no problems in the review—the closest I get is questioning how on earth a twelve-year-old has a regular part time job. However, each character does have a problem, however, as pointed out in the summary. Middle school is quite ripe for conflict. For instance, when I was a seventh grader, I was dealing with internalized homophobia, internalized femmephobia, and a lot of anger and trust issues. And that was just internally!

      As I read this book two years ago and it didn’t make much of an impression the first go round, I can no longer speak to Addie’s motivation.

      A “bitchy queen” is a common archetype/stereotype in the queer community that mainstream media is quite fond of. I put it in quotes to denote that stereotype and point out the flatness of the character.

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