by James Howe
Published in 2001 by Atheneum
The Story: The Gang of Five, a group of (you guessed it) misfits, decide to make a change in their school by running for student council. After a failed platform attempt to represent minority students, they realize what everyone has in common are being called names. Thus the No-Name Party is formed, which challenges fellow students to stop name calling in their middle school, because, as the No-Name’s slogan says: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit”
What Wallace and I Think: I thoroughly enjoyed The Misfits, as well as endured many cringe-worthy moments during my reading. I like that the novel presented a diverse cast of characters, and the bullying presented wasn’t over-the-top, but the everyday name calling that can stick with people for a life time. Because of this, the novel presents a school environment and situations many young readers could relate with. I also appreciated how Howe illustrated the lasting effects of name calling, by engaging adult characters who confess to child characters how they are still haunted by names they were called as children, as one adult realizes: “I believed those voices telling me I was a sissy and a mama’s boy” (204).
I also like that this novel has bled into the real world, and sparked No Name Calling week in schools. This is great that the message from the novel has been put into practice in the real world, and that if you’re inspired by reading the novel, you can actually DO something with it. For more information visit No Name Calling Week’s website here. They talk about instituting it in Jr and Sr high schools, but I think having a No Name campaign as early as elementary would be amazing; stop habits before they form.
So what did I find cringe-worthy about the novel… the character Addie. Howe was probably trying to portray her as an innocent go-getter who doesn’t think through the ramifications of her decisions. I, however, felt she was a character that did things for purely to get attention, and some of her attention schemes were HORRIBLE. For example, it is Addie who talks the Gang of Five into running for student office with a party that will represent minorities. Even that a privileged white female could think that she could represent minorities is highly questionable. Her friends point out that they hardly represent minorities (three white males and one white female), and her solution is to ask an African-American student to run with them as president, purely BECAUSE HE IS BLACK. WHAT?!?!?!? Even though her friends do subtly question her on this (“you’re picking him because he’s popular and, excuse me for point it out–again–because he’s black” ), and DuShawn, the poor victim who is chosen to be their token minority figure, is hurt by this, the blatant racism is not criticized enough in my opinion. Addie tries to make grand political stands to change the world, but how it comes across is that she wants attention. She comes across as an ignorant idealist. I would be curious to read Howe’s novel from Addie’s perspective, and see how she is portrayed there.
Overall I give this book a 3.5/5. Addie really cast a shadow over the book for me (I would be curious to know how other readers felt about her, because maybe I’ll being too sensitive), but I do really love the No Name Calling Week that spawned from the book. The back cover suggests readers between the ages of 10-14, though I think even from 9-16 this book would appeal too.