Wednesday, July 8, 2020

REVIEW: Kevin (book) by Paul Kupperberg

is a novel in the Archie Comics universe. It looks like some folks have tagged it as YA, but I'd call it more Middle Grade. I'm pretty sure I found this on a used bookstore bargain shelf.

This review contains spoilers.


Content warning: Bullying, attempted suicide.

Kevin Keller is well-liked in high school, but it wasn't always that way. While helping Veronica and Jughead with the preparations for Riverdale High's upcoming prom, Kevin tells the story of his middle school prom. Back then, he was chubby and had braces and bad skin. Because his dad was in the Army, his family was always moving, and bullies always seemed to view him as a target. But at least at Medford Middle School he had a small group of friends: the Geek Squad, composed of him, Leon, Nicky, and Samantha (aka Sammie).

As the Medford Middle School prom approached, Kevin found himself dealing with lots of stress and confusing feelings. In order to get to hang out more with the popular and handsome Timmy (who Kevin didn't realize was his first crush), Kevin agreed to go to the prom with Sammie as friends, not realizing that she might take it more seriously. And then there was Elliott, the school's biggest bully, threatening to beat him up the first chance he got. Dealing with Elliott got Kevin thinking more about Luke, another one of Elliott's victims - and unlike Kevin, he seemed to be all alone, with no Geek Squad of his own to keep him company.

My one and only exposure to Kevin Keller prior to this book was the Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy graphic novel, which really wasn't my thing. Too heavy-handed and a bit dated feeling, despite the progressiveness of Kevin's very existence in the Archie Comics universe.

This novel worked better for me than the graphic novel (it probably helped that the lack of illustrations meant that I didn't have to look at Kevin's slightly creepy pupil-less blue eyes and almost constant smile), but it was still pretty heavy-handed with its messages about bullying, friendship, and being gay. By the way, for Kevin, figuring out he was gay worked pretty much like a light bulb turning on - once he heard the word and had some time to think about his situation, he just knew, and that was that. I know it works that way for some folks, but if you want a story with a bit more questioning, this isn't it.

The basic story wasn't bad, just very average. The things that most kept my attention were Luke and Timmy. I wanted to see how Luke's situation would get handled (the storyline had a heavy "afterschool special" feel to it) and whether Timmy would morph into another bully through peer pressure.

I will say this, though: there were a couple lines that were worded in ways that were unintentionally hurtful. The one that most stuck out to me was this one:
"Sure, it hurt his feelings when kids made fun of him because of his weight or complexion, but he had a mother and father who made it clear to him that those were just temporary imperfections, not anything that defined him as a person. Eventually, he would lose the extra weight, his skin would clear up, and the braces would come off his teeth. What mattered was who he was inside." (66-67)
I'm sure the author meant well, but not all "imperfections" are temporary. What if a kid is being bullied for something that isn't going to change? What if Kevin never lost weight, or his skin never improved, or his braces didn't completely fix his teeth? Saying "the things you're being bullied for will eventually go away" isn't really all that helpful and could, in fact, be harmful for some readers.

Anyway, I've now finished all the Kevin Keller stuff in my collection, and I don't think I'll be seeking any more out.

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