Also Known as Elvis - James Howe

Also Known as Elvis is the fourth instalment of the Misfits series* that has captured the hearts and minds of many a middle-grade reader. Each book focuses on one of the four members of the Group of Five, which consists of Bobby, Addie, Joe, and Skeezie, also known as Elvis.
My dad left a little over two years ago, when I was in fifth grade. Megan was in the second grade and Jessie was just three. I guess you could say I saw it coming, but it's kind of like hurricane warnings. You think, "Yeah, rain's getting kind of heavy, but a hurricane? Not going to happen here." And then it hits.
Skeezie is having a difficult summer. His mom seems to be going crazy, his sisters are driving him nuts, he has to find a job, and all of his friends are going away on family vacations! Oh, and just to put the cherry on the sundae, his dad has decided to show up and throw the whole family into chaos.

Skeezie is delightfully constructed and feels very realistic as an early teen. Many of his observations carry elements of irrationality and awkwardness that the teenage years are so infamous for. He narrates the story with delicacy and truthfulness, but his tone is undermined by the anxieties that come along with being forced to grow up too quickly. As his mom and sort-of dad work on their own difficulties, Skeezie is forced to take on a role he does not feel ready for, stuck in the middle of all the fighting:
"My mom looks at me like I slapped her. "Do you have any idea how hard it is being an adult?" she screams. "I can't handle it! I'm thirty-two years old and I feel like I'm fifty! I can't help it that your father left me here with you three kids and hardly comes around. . . .
"I was sitting across the table from your father in his ridiculous tie wondering why I was hoping he wanted to come back to me when I hate him even more than I hate garlic knots! Do you get this? Do you get any of this?" 
The book as a whole is told through first person narration, and is peppered with text messages, tweets, and transcribed conversations. Howe covers numerous relevant and important themes throughout the text, including bullying, family, and independence, and Skeezie manages to be the glue holding everything together. Though there are moments that feel forced--the language that Skeezie uses at times don't seem to fit with the timeframe—the majority of the narrative runs smoothly. 

The secondary characters are all distinctive; Bobby, Addie, and Joe are all important parts of Skeezie's story, even though they are absent for most of the book. His parents are also well-realized characters for the most part—the father becomes slightly more sympathetic near the end, though he seems very immature for the majority of the story. Overall, though, they are full of (very human) flaws and struggling to make things work, which ultimately allows the plot to move forward without taking readers out of the narrative flow.

Howe's writing style is refreshingly simple and authentic, moving the relatively slow-paced novel forward with ease for younger readers. The situations are believable, and the characterization is strong throughout. I look forward to discussing this book with friends and colleagues in the near future!


*The Misfits series: The Misfits (2003); Totally Joe (2007); Addie on the Inside (2012)


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