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Review of "Loser"

By Jerry Spinelli
Joanna Cotler Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 29th 2002

Loser is an unusual book, because it does not just describe the life of a boy, but reads like a case history.  The book starts with Donald Zinkoff in first grade, and takes him up until sixth grade.  From the very start, its clear that Zinkoff, as he is called, is rather different from other children.  He insists on wearing a giraffe hat to school on his first day, he makes more noise than other children, he gets the giggles more often, and he also has trouble with writing properly.  He gets overexcited and forgets what he is meant to be doing.  He gets picked on at recess, but he is too good-natured and trusting to really be upset by those experiences.  As he gets older, it turns out he is hopeless at most sports, and he is always the last to be picked when choosing sides for teams.  Other children call him loser, because he often loses the game for the side he is on. 

            With each change in grade, we meet a new teacher for that grade, and we see how their different styles fit well or badly with Zinkoffs personality.  We see some teachers are enthusiastic and caring, while others are not.  We also see how different children react to him as he gets older, he becomes less and less popular, until he does not really have any friends at all.  One day he realizes this and makes friends with one of his classmates, Hector, who also does not have any friends.  Hector is always cleaning out his ear with a paperclip, and he tells Zinkoff that he plans to make a candle out his earwax.  But the friendship does not last, and Zinkoff does not understand why Hector does not want to be his friend.  But this does not trouble Zinkoff, because he mostly has an optimistic view of life.  He likes school and he never realizes that he is unpopular. 

            The main episode at the end of the book happens when Zinkoff goes off in the snow to help look for a lost girl, and stays out there by himself for five hours.  He wanders around in the snow going from street to street, looking for the girl, but he never really gets worried.  He is so lost in his own world that he is always entertained, never bored or worried.  These qualities might possibly make him interesting to other children, although he will probably always be different from other people. 

            Its hard to identify with Zinkoff, and although he has a heart of gold, he does not really understand much about other people.  But Loser does help the reader see that although Zinkoff is different, he is an interesting person and could be a good friend.  The overview of the boys early life might also appeal to children who are budding psychologists. 

            Steve Buscemi reads the unabridged audiobook.  He reads it well, and his style is well suited to the tale of an eccentric boy, but does not overpower it. 



© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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