Seventh-grader Jane Silverman becomes a sidekick to the girl in her middle school who has taken on a fearless superhero persona.
Narrator Janey, who’s white, and her classmates are witness to the constant bullying that alpha girl Dagmar, also white, inflicts on their classmate Paige, who is African-American (“For as long as I can remember,” Paige tells Janey, “Dagmar’s been awful to me”). Dagmar’s star status at the school keeps her from being recognized as the bully she is until Capt. Superlative appears in the hallways, performing generous acts of kindness, courage, and recognition. Janey, who has been flying under the radar since her mother’s death from cancer a few years earlier, discovers through some sleuthing that the girl in the homemade superhero costume is a classmate, Chinese-born Caitlyn Li. The two girls team up to offer study guides and mints, door opening and other small courtesies, and general encouragement to the student body. Revelations abound, including the reasons behind Caitlyn’s act, which hit Janey hard, and behind Dagmar’s bullying of Paige. Ultimately Caitlyn, Janey, and Paige heroically disrupt Dagmar’s reign of terror and create a legacy for Capt. Superlative. This fairly believable middle school drama is punctuated with poignancy and humor—but the casting of the one African-American character as victim and the masking of the book’s other significant character of color sound discordant notes.
Ambitious but of mixed success. (Fiction. 9-12)