From first-time novelist Ammerman comes a sweetly standard tale of a ninth-grade nothing who gets shoved into the school spotlight.
If Judy Blume’s Peter Hatcher were in ninth grade, he would probably be friends with Zak Dale. Short, ordinary and seemingly invisible, Zak (or “Z,” as his friends call him) is accustomed to years of sliding through life without making waves. He keeps his head down and hopes that the teacher doesn’t call on him. But shattering a formaldehyde-and-sheep-brain-filled glass jar in the science room initiates a chain of events that causes Z’s invisibility factor to decrease—both for better (he receives classroom accolades and befriends hot newbie, Mia) and for worse (he’s hounded by bullies and gets reprimanded by the principal). This novel hits its stride in Z’s interactions with a particularly inspiring history teacher, and Miles, Z’s genius friend, lends interest with a unique science project that ends up shutting down school for the afternoon. However, transitions are jarring at points, character description bogs down the narrative and dialogue tends to be a bit stiff. There are also a few unnecessary subplots and unresolved issues; an incident of racial prejudice is never explained, a potential love interest disappears and the Dale family’s emotional electrician doesn’t spark any interest. The beauty of the book lies in the fact that it’s an old fashioned, tried-and-true, simple school story that could have taken place decades ago (if Ammerman had nixed the cell phones, of course). There are very few controversial issues within the text, making it an option for middle-schoolers. Though it’s a tad formulaic, the story is a winning one and should resonate with students who are tired of wizards and vampires.
A good choice for readers looking for a quick, easy school story with a feel-good message.