Loser, a middle grade novel for ages nine to twelve was published by Harper Trophy in 2003. Jerry Spinelli’s Loser is a special book. The first sentence “You grow up with a kid but you never really notice him” hints that this story may be about a kid with low self esteem. The book is about a kid who really likes himself and accepts himself as he is despite the cruelty of his classmates.
At first he sounds like a kid who has ADD. Donald does not like to wait on anything. He has trouble being still and thinks he runs faster than anybody. He is the first one at school every day. You might think a kid who loves school this much would be a straight A student. Not so for Donald Zinkhoff. His writing is sloppy, he can’t stop giggling in class when the teacher says a funny word, he’s clumsy, can’t play the flute, “Twice during the number Zinkhoff’s flute yips like a pinched sister. …and Zinkhoff never notices.”
It doesn’t take much to make Donald happy. He wants to sit in the front row but because of his last name, Zinkhoff, he is always last in everything until fourth grade when his favorite teacher reverses the seating order. “Yahoo” Donald says!
Donald’s progression from first through sixth grade is a journey of a boy with a lot of social problems. Most of them diminish but never disappear. I kept waiting for Donald to triumph in some way but the author did not have that in mind for Donald. His poor performance at sports makes him an outcast. When he blows a race that costs the school the championship, the other kids name Donald Loser!
This story is more for adult readers because I don’t think many teenagers would want to read about a 12 year old and not many 9 to 12 year olds want to read a slow action story. Middle grade kids will enjoy this book when read with adults. There is some action at the end when Donald gets lost in a snow storm and doesn’t even know it.
Donald is a success in a losing way. He may not measure up to what other kids and adults think he should be but because of the love of his family he will survive in a hard world.