By Ekta R. Garg
May 16, 2018
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Release date: May 8, 2018
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
A seventh grade girl who wants nothing more than to remain unseen gets pulled into the spotlight by a classmate with a secret identity. As the girl begins to face her anxiety, she learns that bravery doesn’t mean an absence of fears: it means moving ahead despite them. Debut author J.S. Puller gives middle grade readers an endearing story in the funny, touching novel Captain Superlative.
Jane Silverman doesn’t want anyone to pay attention to her. She’s content to live in the shadows. Life at Deerwood Park Middle School isn’t awful, but bully Dagmar Hagen makes sure that people listen to her. Jane’s seen firsthand how mean Dagmar can be, and like all the other kids she keeps her head down and minds her own business.
Then, one day, someone comes to school who makes it impossible for everyone to keep to themselves.
She calls herself Captain Superlative, and she comes to school dressed in a bathing suit—in January, no less—and neon-blue tights. A blue wig and a red mask hide her true identity, but they can’t hold back her enthusiasm as she addresses all the students as “citizens” and reassures them she’s there “to make all trouble disappear!” Dagmar and her groupies have a field day making fun of the mystery girl, but Captain Superlative either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
At first, Jane wants to ignore the odd girl like everyone else does. When Captain Superlative steps in to stop Dagmar from attacking another student, Jane finds the guts to speak up on the student’s behalf too. With her trademark enthusiasm, Captain Superlative decides Jane will be her sidekick and they’ll dedicate their time to helping others: opening doors for teachers when their hands are full, handing out study guides before a big test, even collecting litter from the sidewalks.
Soon, Jane catches the spirit of caring and ignores the shrinking part of herself that demands she remain hidden. With Captain Superlative by her side, she knows she can do anything. Then Jane finds out a secret about the person she’s come to admire so much, and she’ll have to decide whether she can really be a hero—this time for herself.
Author J.S. Puller nails the middle school atmosphere on the head. Jane’s voice is crystal clear, and many readers in the target audience will identify with her deep desire to stay out of the spotlight and, by association, out of trouble. On the surface, the description of Captain Superlative’s outfits and behavior might seem silly. Puller, however, creates a character who can see life for what it is. Captain Superlative may have a sweet nature and seem like an explosion of optimism, but she doesn’t hesitate to let the bully, Dagmar, know that some behaviors won’t be tolerated. It’s refreshing to see a middle grade character with such inner strength as well as deep conviction.
A few of the book’s elements ring a little too serendipitous. Because of the way Puller sets up the story in the opening scenes, readers will already know the ending even before they meet Captain Superlative. It’s a shame, too, because part of Captain Superlative’s charm is in her seemingly endless zest for helping others. When she reveals a secret to Jane, some of the dramatic impact of that secret is lost due to the setup. By the same token, more sensitive readers may appreciate knowing what’s coming.
Even with that minor drawback, Captain Superlative is an excellent read, and I highly recommend readers Bookmark it!