Losers

PUSH, Scholastic, Inc.  2008

 
This is an edgy young adult novel that focuses on the alienation teenagers feel as they enter high school. The major character is Jupiter, a fifteen-year-old Russian émigré. Although he has been in the American school system since kindergarten, his “foreign” status greatly affects how he perceives his place in the world around him. Jupiter comes from “the Yards,” the poorest neighborhood in the area. Up until now, he has been inconspicuous, but his high school years cause him to increase his profile and confront certain realities. As with all teenagers, he must also cope with his parents, who are struggling to make ends meet and who are decidedly not “cool.” To complicate matters, they want Jupiter to help them in their factory work at a time when he is trying to socially integrate into his high school class. 

At school, Jupiter is quickly targeted by Bates, an out of control teen who tries to harm him at every turn. The boy’s first response is to try to avoid contact with Bates by “hanging out” with another Russian boy named Vadim, a computer genius. However, Vadim is looking for his own acceptance among others like himself and he shuns Jupiter’s overtures. The author develops several other characters, each one designed to represent a certain teenage type. There is Sajit, the gay young man, who is well informed and quite wise about the interactions of his own age group. We are also introduced to Devin, the popular girl, who is the center of a group who values her skills with boys and hangs on her every word. Other characters affect Jupiter’s life: Crash, a boy from a very wealthy family, and Margie, the girlfriend of a gang leader. 

Jupiter explores his own sexuality and then helps another boy to deal with his. He seeks out the music scene and decides how he fits into that world. After developing some friendships with boys, Jupiter searches for a girlfriend, which yields mixed results. He tries to save his parents and himself from being evicted by using his peer connections. And, finally, as he reaches a kind of peace with who he is, Jupiter is able to be himself. 

The author has a good ear for teen language and makes the situational vignettes realistic. The ending of the story is satisfying and helps the reader to see that behind the posturing that teenagers engage in, they cope with real challenges and need one another’s support. For ages l4–up.

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