Back of the book blurb: Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school. But he’s also a genius who invents cool contraptions— like a TV that shows the past. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. But genius or not, there is much Owen can’t outthink. Like his gym coach, who’s on a mission to humiliate him. Or the way his Oreos keep disappearing from his lunch. He’s sure that if he can only get the TV to work, things will start to make sense. But it will take a revelation for Owen, not science, to see the answer’s not in the past, but the present. That no matter how large he is on the outside, he doesn’t have to feel small on the inside.
She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Welcome to the world of Owen Birnbaum! Owen, his sister (Jeremy), and all the school-age characters in Slob are written as realistic and complex adolescents. To them, facing the day-to-day challenges of pre-teens can sometimes appear as daunting as maintaining world peace, or ending hunger. And then there are the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances faced by Owen, which would be a struggle for most adults.
Owen is fat. Fat and brilliant. He is fiercly protective of 11-year-old Jeremy, and, although not part of an “in crowd,” he does have a close friend in school. Because of his weight gain, Owen has been subject to verbal bullying. Instead of standing up to the bullies and defending himself, he imagines himself as useless as a boulder:
I stood there for a minute feeling especially fat. I mean, I always feel fat, but sometimes I feel like a boulder … and I just stand there, letting it happen, because I’m a boulder and that’s what boulders do.
Slob is especially engaging because it is told in the first person. Emotions and observations are told at the level of a 12-year-old (albeit a very mature and intelligent 12-year-old). I was immediately brought back as an observer in my own late elementary and early middle school days, witnessing the humiliation of gym class through Owen’s eyes.
I’ll share another excerpt that struck me. Owen is in his closet going through a bag of clothes he wore two years ago, before his weight gain. He questions who he is, and who he has become, as he faces the memories stirred up by the clothes. I also like the mention of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, as it mirrors our own family’s alliances:
… I held them up, one by one. Had my body once fit into these things? It was almost unimaginable. I felt like I must have been a totally different person. Like I had died and been reborn as someone else. I remembered things I had forgotten about too, the way you do when you look at old photographs. I could remember that I had worn one particular shirt on our trip to Ottawa, or how my NY Yankees shirt always made my parents squabble about the baseball teams – my mother was from Boston.
My 11-year-old son really enjoyed Slob, telling me “I know kids who’ve had things like that happen to them … but not as bad!” When he let me have a turn with the book, I was immediately taken with Owen, and quite curious to see if he would transform from a boulder to a rolling stone. Slob, with its many layered messages and subtle lessons will be read and re-read by my children. Highly recommended for boys and girls; I’ve already passed the title along to my son’s fifth grade teacher, and to my niece, who teaches fourth grade.
Ellen Potter is also the author of the Olivia Kidney series and Pish Posh. Slob has just been award the Junior Library Guild Spring 2009 selection.