________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 40. . . .June 18, 2010


The Last Superhero.

Kristin Butcher.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2010.
118 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-926607-01-6.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

** /4



Ross Melnyk wets his bed.

That’s what it said. I stopped peeing in midstream and read it again. And one more time after that. Then I started to laugh. It’s not that I believed it was true, but it sure was funny, especially when I thought about how Peewee was going to react when he saw it. He was going to go straight up and turn left. His ego was going to be so beat up, it might never recover. And if Peewee got his hands on the guy who’d written that, he’s probably kill him.

Suddenly I stopped laughing. I knew exactly who’d written it-and it wasn’t a guy.

If Wren was behind the graffiti, I was betting she’d done it in all the washrooms. I zipped my pants and took off.

Everyone knows a bully and is likely guilty of bullying whether s/he knows it or not. Peewee and Garth spend their day terrorizing ‘the library regulars’ who take cover in the library to escape the bullies. The only person brave (and crazy?) enough to stand up to the bullies is Wren, and she may be a bit of a bully herself.

    Jas has encountered Peewee and Garth before: he’s been shoved and bullied and has watched others suffer the same humiliation. Jas isn’t the type of person to stand up for himself or others; he just wants to be left alone and not cause more trouble than necessary, and so he keeps his mouth firmly shut, and this is where he and Wren differ the most.

     If there’s anything Wren can’t stand, it’s a bully, and especially bullies who pick on people they know won’t, or can’t, fight back. A brash young lady (in personality and clothing), Wren is always on the lookout for bullies and watching out for their victims. Wren firmly believes that a bully must receive twice the humiliation he or she has dished out, whether Wren or someone else was on the receiving end. Peewee and Garth are not big fans of Wren.

     When lunch hour is abnormally quiet, Jas knows who’s missing and who is behind it. Jas knows he likely won’t survive the bullies on his own and decides his only chance is to enlists the silent, push-over library regulars he knows Wren protects like they’re her own children. He eventually inspires the library regulars to join him in rescuing Wren, proving for the first time ever that they have a spine.

    Along with coping with his father’s girlfriend, who seems to be out to ruin Jas’ life, and his annual vacation with his father, Jas is working on a comic so he can attend an elite summer art programme. At first, he sees Wren as nothing but an obnoxious distraction from his work. He finds himself having to make difficult decisions: is the art programme more important than the safety of a girl he doesn’t even consider a friend? Is it really that terrible if his father’s girlfriend tags along on their camping trip? Is it possible neither female is trying to ruin his life? Jas doesn’t seem to think so, but he might be wrong.

   At times, the book is bogged down by the details of Jas’ home life and his dislike of his father’s girlfriend, Debra. It feels as if two books have been shuffled together with Debra’s tenuous connection to the main plot through a Christmas present of good coloured pencils for the comic Jas is working on. If the book was picked up solely on the back-cover blurb, the reader would be disappointed. The comic book loosely ties the bullies and his father’s girlfriend together. The author may have wanted the emphasis to be on Jas’ decision that Debra isn’t so bad after all and that maybe his ‘friend’ Wren is even more important than his comic, but there are too many things going on for all of the book’s lessons to be fully appreciated.

   Some readers may find some chapters very upsetting. Wren is twice bound up by the bullies. In the first episode, she is tied up and taken to the school basement where the bullies think no one will find them. Later, she is left, her hands taped across her chest and unconscious in the freezing cold without a jacket, concussed and bleeding with ‘loser’ written on her forehead. Bullying is taken to the extreme, and not every reader will find the outrageous images engaging.

   Despite all of the action, the various storylines slow the book down and leave the reader wanting to skip ahead to find out what happens. While there are lessons to be learned about friends, bullying, step-parents, and even a little about activism, the reader may find, as Jas does at times, just too much.

Recommended with reservations.

Crystal Sutherland holds Masters degrees in Literacy Education and Library and Information Science. She lives in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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