Lester Musselbaum has a few struggles when he starts fifth grade. He’s only been homeschooled up to now, so he doesn’t realize his awesomeness might not be seen as such by other kids. He’s grieving–and his mom is grieving even more–the loss of his astronaut father. He’s on the autism spectrum, although he doesn’t know it until later in the book. He also has a name which seems tailor-made for bullies. (As the book shows, we pretty much all have great names for bullies – they have an impressive creativity with words when they need to put someone down. Unfortunately, this does not often carry over to most school subjects.)
Compared to a lot of books I’ve read and not written about lately, he’s got sunshine, butterflies, and free ice cream all summer. Maybe this is why I liked Lester and not them. Maybe it’s why when I thought, “This is not the book you’re looking for” after reading the inside flap, I was wrong. I am so tired of middle grade books that pile on the tragedy. (I have written about this. You can‘t just have one dead sibling; you have to lose at least two family members, have a sibling who’s got issues, and then find out you or your best friend are going to die or be disfigured while also fighting some other injustice. I know. I’m exaggerating. I do that.)
Lester would probably appreciate the Star Wars reference, although Superman is more up his alley. Lester tells the story and does a fine job of illustrating his world and the other characters in it without trying too hard. He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and sometimes his words just aren’t going to be understood by others as you might mean things when you operate consistently from a scientific perspective.
This is a first novel from a Midwestern former teacher now living in the state to the north of us. Yippee! I can’t wait to see what’s next from her.
Superstar by Mandy Davis