I have been reviewing Penguin's books for quite some time, so it came as no surprise when I received a copy of one of their books published by Penguin Young Readers Group. What did come as a surprise was the letter that accompanied Kevin by Paul Kupperman . I know it's a form letter, but it said, "We're sending you a copy of the book because our Marketing team suggested you were interested in books with LGBT themes." I took that as a compliment. Someone realized I'm a librarian, open to reading good stories. And, Kevin is definitely a good story with a message.
Kevin Keller is the first openly gay character in the history of Archie Comics. He debuted in the comic in 2010, turning out to be very popular. Now, Kupperman allows the popular kid at Riverdale High to look back at his middle school years in Kevin, a novel designed for readers eight to twelve.
While decorating for the prom at Riverdale with Veronica and Jughead, Kevin looks back at one of the worst years of his life, the year at Medford Middle School. "The bigger, more popular kid picked out the new, chubby kid with braces as his prey." A military brat, Kevin had been in seven schools, and often found himself a loner. Here, he at least had some friends. "Besides being regular victims of the popular kids' taunts, they all shared common interests in comic books, science fiction, multiplayer online video games, and other nerdy pursuits." That didn't make it any better when Elliot Kingman, captain of the lacrosse and soccer teams, a handsome, popular kid, picked on him. And, it didn't make it better when Kevin saw Elliot and his friends taunt and beat up another kid. Kevin was just afraid to defend himself or anyone else against the gang of bullies.
Kevin does his best to ignore Elliot, but even Kevin's father, a colonel in the army, realizes something is wrong, and offers help. Workouts and judo are fine, but how can his father help him when he realizes he's not excited about his date to the middle school prom? She sees Kevin as a date. He's more excited about the chance to hang out with a popular boy at the dance. But, it's a violent act that forces Kevin to realize how he truly feels. And, it's violence that makes Kevin stand up for a victim.
Archie Comics and Paul Kupperman are to be commended. Kevin is a lesson in tolerance, diversity, and anti-bullying. Middle school is a turning point in Kevin's life when he realizes he prefers a boy over his prom date. However, it's the anti-bullying message that is the focus of this novel. At one point, it uses Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as a lesson in courage, a lesson that is pointed out to Kevin. When he takes it to heart, he finds the courage to stand up to a bully and the mob mentality, the peer pressure that can be so cruel in middle school.. It's a lesson directed not only to middle school age readers, but to readers of all ages.
Paul Kupperberg's blog is http://www.kupperberg.blogspot.com/
Kevin by Paul Kupperberg. Grosset & Dunlap. 2013. ISBN 9780448458526 (hardcover), 156p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.