Letter From The Editor
What Some “Misfits” Taught Me About The “Near Win”
-September 30th, 2015-
When you hear “The Misfits” most people these days might think of the antagonistic rock star rivals from “Jem and Holograms.”
But long after the original 80s animated series first hit the airwaves, over two decades later, a new generation of “Misfits” were born, in the form of author James Howe’s novel “The Misfits” first published back in 2001.
The story revolves around a group of childhood friends facing the typical challenges of middle school, puberty, and the politics of popularity.
While these self-proclaimed “Misfits” all play a key role to the story, our central character is 12-Year-Old Robert “Bobby”, who narrates us into his small town world of Paintbrush Falls in upstate (i.e. FAR from NYC) New York.
Bobby’s friends include, Addie Carle, the height-conscious type-A academic and occasional “Mother Hen/*Wendy” of the group, who wields a vocabulary as big and grand as her principles. (*Wendy, see Peter Pan)
Skeezie, who at one time, might’ve become one of the story’s antagonists given his mischievous antics and penchant for teasing, but thanks to a kind gesture from Addie back in grade school, he instead became a good friend, who just dresses like the “hooligan” most folks blindly assume he is, but we, as the wide-eyed reader looking in, know better.
Last, but far from least, is Joe Bunch, the celebrity-obsessed, and outrageously flamboyant semi-closeted Gay boy whose as much comfortable in his own skin as those outside his friend and family circles are left confused at best-and feared at worst.
Of course, this being middle school, when kids fear something, they often belittle it, and during a time in life when differences of any kind are grounds for isolation and ostracization, it often resulting in name-calling and/or violence.
The irreverent, self-referential narrative will be quite familiar for those of you old enough to remember the sitcom, “The Wonder Years” starring a tween-to-teen Fred Savage (who would later go on to voice the charming blue octopus, Oswald).
But while that iconic series had an (unseen) adult Kevin looking back on his life through junior high and early high school years, this story takes place within the confines of the first semester of 7th grade, and while Bobby occasionally tips his hand at certain chronology, he tells us his story in the way only a kid in that “Middle Place” between childhood and the early adolescence can, albeit in a more eloquent way.
As a reader, and an author myself, who takes pride in smart use of language, this is a refreshing change of pace from the more informal tone most books these days employ.
But for those of you worried about *KSLA (*Kids Sounding Like Adults Syndrome) not to worry, neither the prose or dialogue ever forgets that this a story about and narrated by a kid, and if you’ve heard the full cast audiobook version of “The Misfits” (as I did) where kids are playing “The Gang of Five” and the extended supporting cast, it further reinforces just how natural and real our proudly unconventional preteen heroes (and heroine, I didn’t forget, Addie) sound.
Those familiar with John Green’s books, and their smart use of language, will enjoy the depth found here.
While we often talk about YA/Adult reader crossover, but this is a book I feel is one of the few I’ve come across that has excellent crossover appeal for middle grade/YA readers.
2015 marks the 15th Anniversary of “The Misfits”
(As depicted in the banner above)
This book has garnered much praise amongst writers, and readers alike, since it’s release quite the following and I’d first heard of the “The Misfits” back in 2011 (the book’s 10th Anniversary), right before the release of “Addie on the Inside”, the second of what would be three companion books set within the timeline shortly after the events of the first book.
“Totally Joe”, the first companion book, debuted in 2007, which brings us more insight to Joe’s emerging gay identity, something author James Howe himself had grappled with growing up.
While we’ve made some key progress in the decade plus since “The Misfits” debuted, most notably the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, more nuanced and varied portrayals of LGBTQ characters in books and other media, (versus the “comic” stereotypes from eras past), and recently the U.S. Supreme Court ruling same-sex couples have the legal right to marry (and have that marriage be validated) in all 50 states, we still have more work to do.
Especially amongst the transgender community, where trans women often receive the worse treatment, and amending our federal laws to disallow organizations to discriminate against LGTBQ people in the workplace, which, at the time of this writing, in most states of the nation is sadly still legal.
We also have to amend (if not totally revamp) the U.S. adoption laws to ensure same-sex couples (or single LGBTQ individuals) to adopt and raise children and teens, and ensure they’re entitled to the same health, federal/legal protections, and end of life benefits opposite-sex unions have.
In April 2014, “Also Known As Elvis” gives us the skinny from Skeezie (legal name: Skyler), who as the title infers, also goes by “Elvis”, though you’ll have to read to find out why, and it’s not as obvious as you might think…
It wasn’t until this year that I experienced “The Misfits” for myself (via the aforementioned audiobook version), and I’m glad I did, and as many readers often say, wish I’d read it sooner.
I was 14 when Bobby and Co. first arrived on the kidlit scene, and I see many aspects of myself reflected in “The Gang of Five” (though there’s only four of them), and even now at 28, I feel their struggles and triumphs as fervently raw now as I would’ve then, perhaps even more-so because I see from my adult perspective, where some of those twists and turns can lead.
Something I learned in reading (er, listening) to this book, is I have to do a better job at embracing the “Near Win.”
As a writer, one of the many mottos you hear ad-nauesum is “Celebrate Every Success” which in all honesty is not easy for me. I don’t mean that in a snobbish way.
You both CAN and WANT to be living independently.
Instead you’re still living at home because you can’t afford to live anywhere else.
You want to do good work and be paid for it.
You’re shut out of most careers because you’re not a college graduate.
As a writer, it looks like this-
Selling A Book (Win)
Haven’t sold a book yet. But I finished a draft of a book. (Near Win)
Often being a writer involves making compromises, and some are easier (or at least more feasible) than others-
Indie/Self-Publishing is a viable option.
(Compromise to being unable to or infrequently publish traditionally)
The push-pull between “Just do it!” and “Do it right” are harder to navigate when you have limited finances and resources to bring a professional book to the market.
As much as I believe in the nuance of gender identity (whatever your sexual orientation), and that animal stories aren’t just for babies and preschoolers, I struggle with the gray areas in publishing, in particular, and life in general.
Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite because of this disparity, especially given recent conversations I’ve had with fellow writers recently, but now I’ve come to realize that I’m more narrow-minded than I wish was the case.
I can see gray areas in many ways, but not others, and like most things in life, the issues that hit closest to home are often the toughest areas for me to even SEE (let alone embrace) the near win.
Without spoiling the story for those of you unversed in the world of “The Misfits”, they too had a “near win” which resulted in the now infamous “No Name-Calling Week” imitative, reminding us words can hurt as much as physical violence.
Something to think about as we near October, and the start of “National Bullying Prevention Month.”
Until next I write you, my dear readers, your lit. rat’s signing off.