CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 41. . . .June 20, 2014
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
208 pp., pbk., hc. & epub, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0611-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0612-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0613-1 (epub).
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Karen Boyd.
“Listen, Dad,” I say, “I have a test tomorrow morning, so...”
Actually it’s the same social studies test I took today. The teacher said I can take it again if I study this time. What she doesn’t understand is, I studied last time, for hours, and it didn’t help. Still, I need to get my mark up or Dad will be asking for urine samples next. Besides, maybe one day I’ll actually get a high enough grade to stop people from calling me stupid. It’s worth a try.
Sixteen-year-old Martin is beginning to believe it when people call him stupid. He works hard, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to get good grades. A misdiagnosis of ADHD just made things worse as the Ritalin almost prevented him from thinking at all. The benefit to the diagnosis is that Martin is able to sell his pills to the school drug dealer for enough money to support his filmmaking habit. If Martin’s dad has his way, the filmmaking will stop, and Martin will find himself at military school.
Filmmaking is something that Martin just can’t give up. It is the one place in his life where he feels successful and “smart”. When he goes out at night, his dad suspects him of using drugs, but Martin is actually finding subjects for his films. One day while filming in an abandoned brewery, Martin meets Stick, an amazing Parkour athlete. Stick lives in a foster home, and Martin has to challenge his own beliefs about families and those who may be different from him. He finds himself being judgmental when he hates to be judged. While very different, the two form a friendship as Martin begins to put together a documentary on “free running” to enter in a contest.
In Stupid, Firmston has blended a variety of interests and issues without making the book feel cluttered or disconnected. Martin introduces readers to filmmaking, and, at the same time, readers begin to learn about dyslexia with the character. Martin narrates over his Parkour movie, explaining that this is how he sees the world. Stick’s foster mother comments that she has never seen such an effective explanation of dyslexia, and this becomes Martin’s “aha” moment. Parkour becomes the vehicle for Martin to learn about his dyslexia, but Stick’s passion for the sport and his own motivation to challenge himself move it from the background to the foreground.
Every character is multi-dimensional, including Martin’s parents and sister. Martin’s father comes across as hard-nosed, bordering on mean, but Firmston is able to show that he is really feeling helpless and wants, in his own way, to help his son.
As an educator, it was discouraging to recognize the complete lack of action on the part of teachers to help Martin. I wish that I could attribute that to Firmston’s imagination, but I am afraid that there may be too many Martins in our system.
Stupid is an accessible yet richly layered text. I recommend it for the targeted age group, but also hope that educators and parents will read it and consider that “lazy” and “stupid” are often misnomers and never helpful.
Karen Boyd is an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba
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