________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 5 . . . . November 1, 2002


The Losers’ Club.

John Lekich.
Toronto, Annick Press, 2002.
249 pp., pbk. & cl., $10.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-752-3 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-753-1 (cl.).

Grade 7-9 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


I should explain that I'm currently the only kid at Marshal McLuhan High with a hall pass that gets me out of class a full five minutes early. That's because the administration thinks I might get trampled by a stampede of "thoughtless individuals" if they let me out at the same time as everybody else. For years, I've been using metal crutches to get around. I'm what you'd call "permanently disabled" if you were being polite. People are not always polite.

I don't like being disabled, of course. The crutches make a creepy hollow sound when I'm moving down the empty halls, and certain thoughtless individuals are always offering to help me down the stairs so they can get out early and be first in line at the cafeteria. I never let anybody help me that way. It's one of my rules.

Besides the hall pass, the only good thing about walking on crutches is that nobody tries to stuff me in a locker. Even Jerry Whitman, who runs a very profitable extortion ring and intimidates a decent cross section of the losers in the student body, refuses to shake me down for my share of "loser bucks." While Jerry relishes loser bucks more than any other kind of money, he says it's bad public relations to injure a poster boy for the handicapped.

Sam, an eccentric inventor under threat from an unhappy client, disappears, leaving his 15-year-old son, Alex Sherwood, alone with $4000 stuffed into his crutches to cover expenses like food and rent during his absence. When Alex learns that Winston Chang, a fellow member of the Marshall McLuhan High "Losers' Club," also is alone in the huge house his Hong Kong-based parents set up for him, Alex accepts Winston's invitation to move in with him.

     Winston immediately alerts Alex to the presence of the "Beast" next door whose intermittent bizarre behaviour irritates the Changs. Alex confronts the "beast," Harry Beardsley, and ends up establishing him as a de facto guardian for Winston when a teacher applies pressure insisting he use his considerable intelligence to excel in Math. Alex discovers common ground with Harry who has a son with cerebral palsy back in California, likes the Marx brothers, and currently writes pulp fiction, although he has written one serious novel.

     Number three loser Manny, handling an alcoholic mother, increasingly spends time at the Chang house, leaving his mom alone. His New York-based dad calls, realizes Mom is inebriated, and arrives to place her in treatment. He promises Manny a home with him in New York until the new wife vetoes that idea. The trio of losers lives together reasonably harmoniously.

     At school, Jerry Whitman and his gang torment all the losers except Alex. Even Jerry realizes that extorting a handicapped person might destroy his "golden boy" image. Eventually, Saviour Sherwood, as the losers dub Alex, allows a confrontation with Jerry to get out of hand and challenges him to a contest, the Festival of Lights competition. Jerry sets conditions: if neither wins, the status quo remains; if Jerry wins Alex must shut down the Bank of Sherwood, his practice of lending money to losers threatened by Jerry's bouncers. Alex realizes "it would mean the end of the Losers' Club. The end of everything." On the other hand, if Alex's team wins, Jerry agrees to "end his entire extortion ring."

     With Jerry's real-estate mogul father sponsoring Jerry's team, the other losers expect to fail. However, Alex, aided by the enigmatic Julie, gets them working together to create a unique display incorporating varied, bizarre, and incongruous elements. Jerry's team destroys the original "loser" display, but Alex's dad fortuitously reappears, thanks to Harry who had mysteriously disappeared from the scene, tracked Sam down in California, and sent him home. Sam lends his particularly inventive talents to Manny's artistic abilities and creates a truly unique product. "The Christmas 'Loser' Display" wins first prize for "the most original display . . . in the history of the contest" according to Elvira Mumford, the sponsor of the contest and Alex's occasional coffee companion, beating the Whitman "Tribute to Real Estate" display.

     Some of the losers' problems are eased: the extortion ring is destroyed, Jerry moves to another school, the absent parents and/or caretakers return or assume more conventional roles. However, as Manny observes, "We are still basically miserable. But every now and then something good happens so we can tell just how miserable we are the rest of the time."

     Using fast-paced and snappy dialogue, Lekich moves the plot along briskly, outlining some outrageous and humorous scenarios that might well appeal to pre and early adolescent males who haven't yet reached the "I don't/won't read" stage. He portrays adults and females primarily as dysfunctional or superfluous to the story, although he does give the school librarian special kudos - "our intensely gorgeous librarian . . . the pinnacle of grace and beauty." Among the numerous current issues raised in the novel are bullying, alcoholism, handicaps, families, friendship, loss of a parent, and peer pressure. While comments like "immaturity is the ultimate form of rebellion" pepper the prose, Alex is an appealing and articulate narrator who humorously describes events and seriously provides personal commentary about his fears, attitudes, dreams, and aspirations. A Vancouver based award-winning journalist, Lekich sets the story in his home territory and provides an entertaining portrait of teen life from a "losers'" viewpoint.

The Losers' Club was a finalist for the 2002 Governor General's Literary Award in the category of Children's Literature - Text.


Darleen Golke is a librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.


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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364