I like this book so much I can hardly stand it. I’m not even exaggerating that much. This was one of my very very favorites growing up, and I totally remember why. How cliche is the whole “I laughed. I cried!” review? Well…..it made me laugh. Out loud. I laughed when I first read it (at probably age 11) and I laughed reading it as a 32 year old. I cried, hard. I cried reading it at age 11, and I cried reading it at age 32.
The book is heavy on theme and character. Not so heavy on plot. Which makes it a little tough to give a synopsis, but I will try, that’s what I’m here for after all.
Told from the POV of 12 (soon to be 13) year old Jason Herkimer, Space Station Seventh Grade is a story about becoming a teenager and being completely out of control of your body and your thoughts. It’s about becoming a different person for those few years. It’s about raging hormones. It’s about young unrequited love. It’s about the bonds of friendship.
Jason is just beginning Junior High. He’s a short runty kid, who’s a whiz at Little League shortstop. His best friend is a kid named Richie. Other friends include Calvin (who wants nothing more than to be a doctor), Peter (who is Korean and has a really annoying younger brother Kippy who will never leave them alone), and Dugan (who goes to Catholic school and just seems to show up out of the blue whenever more than two of the other guys get together).
Jason starts to recognize right away that the ninth graders in Junior High seem much more…grownup than the seventh graders. Jason and Richie estimate that only about 25 of their seventh grade classmates even have pubes yet (Jason doesn’t!). There is a whole chapter devoted to pubes, by the way. Which is just…..brilliant. Jason falls hard for Debbie Breen, a seventh grade cheerleader. She’s nice enough, but clearly doesn’t return the strong feelings. Which I like, because how many books have the cheerleaders being total bitches? So extra points to Spinelli for making a nice, normal friendly cheerleader.
Jason also starts to get in to trouble. He can’t seem to control himself. But the class clown, Ralphie Smitht (yes, with the extra T) suddenly seems so hilarious and Jason becomes his partner in laughter. One day during a talent show, a tall lanky seventh grade girl gets up on stage and starts tooting on her trombone. People are already laughing, but Jason makes the loudest moosecall (I’ve never been exactly sure what a moosecall is) and gets suspended. He has to apologize to the girl, Marceline McAllister.
Marceline makes a few other appearances in the book. She is paired up with Calvin in Home Ec Class. And she and Jason compete against each other on the track team as the lowly seventh grade milers. (Marceline wins every race until the final meet of the year).
Now up until a certain point, the book was meandering and funny. Then the end throws you for a loop, and the last few chapters are some of the most well-written YA tragicomedy I have ever read. **MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD**
Jason invites Peter and Richie over for a campout in their backyard. Peter, naturally has to bring along four year old Kippy. Jason’s stepbrother is the same age and the boys are really annoying. Jason and his friends play a prank on the two little ones, scaring Kippy so bad that he has to go home. Jason spends the remainder of the chapter complaining about little brothers. The next day, Kippy Kim is killed in a car accident. After the funeral, Jason becomes afraid of the dark. He can’t sleep. He is basically scared of the world and suddenly frightened of his lack of knowledge of things.
He starts riding his bike. A lot. One day he decides to head out for a long bike ride to the country. Who does he come across, but Marceline McAllister. And a funny thing happens. Jason and Marceline get along. They push each other’s buttons, but Jason has this completely open and honest moment with Marceline when she accuses him of torturing animals just like other boys his age (Jason had thrown a bottle at a raccoon days earlier). “I ain’t no raccoon killer! I love raccoons! I felt rotten ever since I threw the bottle at that one! I gave my Valentine’s candy to Esther Kufel! I teach little kids stuff! I can’t sleep ever since Peter Kim’s litte brother got killed. I’m a good kid! You hear? My stepfather says so! I’M A GOOD KID!” They make up, settle in and enjoy the rest of their bike ride (though Marceline does hit a cow). And off they ride, Jason and Marceline. Together.
**END OF SPOILERS**
What’s not to love about this book? I know I’ve said it before, but truly I can not stress enough,: Jerry Spinelli can fucking write. Some examples:
“Summer has a funnel shape. It seems real wide at first, and deep. Like it will last forever. You just float on top of it. But all the time it’s getting smaller and smaller. And before you know it the summer days are getting sucked down faster and faster. You’re helpless. You can’t stop it.”
and after Jason has trouble falling asleep:
“One night it rained. Then stopped. I listened at the window. The whole night was crackling and popping, like everything was ready to come to a boil. No wonder. Baseball….Kippy Kim in a coffin…..sunshine…..dead crows….Debbie Breen…..grinning old hags….. bugs…. bicycles…. bellybutton lint-God! How can such different kinds of stuff all fit in the same world? Much less the same thirteen-year-old head?
Other things I totally love about this book (other than the excellent writing):
- Spinelli uses foul language. I hate YA books where the characters will say “Aw shucks,” instead of “oh shit.” I said shit when I was 12/13 and I know the boys did to. The best example? At the Valentine’s dance, Debbie Breen doesn’t dance with Jason. He stalks off and here’s what he says, “Shit. Shit. Horse shit. Dog shit. Monkey shit. Pig shit. Shit shit.” That’s a whole lotta shit!
- Did I mention there’s a whole chapter on pubes? Yeah, that’s funny.
- The funniest line of the book though is when Jason and Richie join the football team. They have to go to the doctor, who does the “turn your head and cough,” routine. (I honestly don’t really know what the doctor is looking for by grabbing fellas in the nuts and having them cough….but I’ve never needed to know.) Richie and Jason wonder if the doctor does something similar to girls. And Richies response? “Maybe he grabs their tits and tells them to fart.”
- Another hilarious part is that Jason’s father wants to become a Jew. Not because he really believes in the tenants of Judaism. Oh no. He wants to become a Jew because of the good food. Which is funny enough, but when Dad gets a Jewish girlfriend, Jason starts pretending that they are already Jewish, though his knowledge of all things Jew is laughably miniscule.
- Jason is complaining about the school nose-picker. And he says in a not-quite non-sequiter “While I’m on the subject, I have this theory: Emeralds are petrified dinosaur snots.”
- Jason on girls (before he falls in love with Debbie Breen): “girls can hardly ever do anything because they might go bleeding.” “Mothers are actually just girls who had babies.” And he thinks it’s just nature that he, as a boy, would be able to beat up ten girls at once. If he wanted to. And he insists that when he’s married, he’s not going to get undressed in front of some wife.
- Why am I suddenly so terrified of my own son becoming a teenager?
I get warm fuzzy happy feelings just thinking about this book. It’s not perfect (Jason can be a naive dick about race) but there is something about it that feels so….honest. Love it, love it, love it. Next review, Jason and Marceline, which takes place their ninth grade year.