Fitting in or finding a sense of belonging is of critical importance during one’s junior high years. To be branded a freak or to not be part of the social construct is a curse capable of derailing the course of one’s destiny. Just as the Greeks voted politically dangerous citizens into exile, ostracism is a genuine fear for Janey Silverman, the protagonist of J.S. Puller’s inaugural novel Captain Superlative. Given her fears, Jane blends in and doesn’t step beyond her comfort zone. Content with being Plain Jane, she floats along under the radar of detection, ensuring she is not the target of notice.
Then, Captain Superlative shows up at Deerwood Park Middle School. So openly peculiar, she literally wears her otherness like a uniform. Dressed in a shiny silver bathing suit, neon-blue tights, red high-top sneakers, a red cape, and blue rubber gloves, Captain Superlative has come “to defend honor, justice, and the forces of good” (15).
Although not even five feet tall, she fills the space around her, believing that as long as there is work to be done, doors to open, giants to slay, and citizens in need, she’s the person for the job. Her secret identity and her motives arouse Janey’s curiosity. Besides, there’s something potentially dangerous, deviant, disastrous, and deadly about Captain Superlative, and Janey is determined to make the discovery.
But solving the mystery and learning the super hero’s origin story will mean that Janey can no longer remain inconsequential. Under the influence of Captain Superlative’s modeling, Janey transforms into a person with a mission and confronts Dagmar Hagen, a domineering, dreadful diva who bullies others. Because Dagmar is a service-award winning star of the soccer team and a competitive, straight-A student favored by teachers, her bullying has previously gone unchecked. In the process, Jane rescues Paige McCoy, a short, dark, earthy girl with a talent for songwriting, who is Dagmar’s easy target and frequent victim.
Another character in the cast, Tyler Jeffries is the class clown and the love interest of most every seventh and eighth grade girl. However, as is often true of human beings, all of these characters have secrets. Will their secrets brand them as different, deranged, defective, and doomed, or will they rise to the challenge to be superlative?
Once Janey crosses over from air to substance, she regrets her choice and wishes to vanish again into the woodwork of normal. But once she has stood up and made a difference, she is unsure that she can play the bystander again and be complicit in the abuse she witnesses.
Puller’s novel is as inspirational as Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. With a junior high age protagonist and a supporting cast of characters, the novel is targeted for that audience of readers, but the story’s moral about bullying applies to a much broader audience. Puller also adds sage advice to her story as she shares human truths:
- The road to figuring out who you are is paved with failures; that’s life.
- Weird people teach us what we value most.
- Small gestures of kindness make a person a super hero.
- Good is like a habit, and habits often start with small gestures.
As her story unfolds, Puller asks important questions that invite the reader to think about the difference between visible and invisible pain and that inspire us to become people of action. After all, life is too short to be anything less than superlative.
- Posted by Donna