A spirited 12-year-old thinks he’ll never be anything but average until he recognizes his own gifts in this witty and wise novel for middle schoolers from a first-time author/illustrator.
Otis “O.K.” Kalshwonkee is small for his age, younger than most seventh graders, and afraid that his initials are fitting for someone who is cursed “to be average at everything” for the rest of his life. A move to the town of Boykinville is an opportunity for Otis to reforge his image, if only he can “break out of Mediocreland” and do something to impress his new classmates. Otis has high hopes even though he’ll be “a lowly bottom feeder” in a building where 12th graders rule. In his debut novel, author/illustrator Tiefenthaler brings likable Otis to life with witty first-person narration and kidlike pencil drawings that reflect a pre-adolescent boy’s observations and flights of fancy. It’s clear that Otis won’t let misfired science projects, detention-earning snafus, or even a bullying mean girl kill his spirit. Inspiration strikes when he notices “The Boykinville Board of Beasts,” a list of the school’s record holders in strength and speed competitions. “I’ll set a record so ridiculous, so amazing, that my name will be there until the apocalypse,” he thinks. Through yet another mishap, Otis discovers his gift for long distance running and starts training with his new friends Leo and Horace and plans to make his mark at last. Enter Stephanie, Otis’ self-appointed nemesis, who decides to escalate her bullying campaign. (Without sacrificing character or story, Tiefenthaler, a middle school teacher himself, aims his authoritative anti-bullying message at both adults and young people.) In the end, Otis feels more than OK about himself and his accomplishments, offering readers a “bonus chapter” with tips for new running enthusiasts and his design ideas for the Boykinville Beasts’ football helmets.
This well-observed, funny book for middle schoolers scores high marks for the true-to-life observations, trials, and successes of its lively 12-year-old protagonist.