Literary Criticism and Significance
8th Grade Super Zero is a coming-of-age novel told with a tone of light-hearted authenticity from the point of view of its articulate, fourteen-year-old protagonist. Published in 2010, it is author Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich's first book. The story takes place in the environs of Clarke Junior School, an inner-city New York alternative school for "smart kids," and the setting is notable for its well-balanced multicultural population. The students at Clarke come from a wide variety of ethnic heritages, but while race does create subtle divisions, racism per se does not seem to be an issue in the students' interactions. For the most part, the characters are first and foremost just ordinary, idiosyncratic, junior high school kids, sometimes compassionate and often cruel, doing what they feel they must do in order to get by and establish a place for themselves in the social hierarchy distinctive to their age. The central characters are real and engaging, highly individual, and endearing in their quirkiness; Reggie, introspective, slightly geeky, but sincere in his efforts to find a way to "make a difference" in the world, his artistic and loyal buddy Joe C., who is never without his trademark favorite drink Juiced! and wants to be a disc jockey, and fiery, outspoken Ruthie, the junior activist, will capture the imaginations of readers and not soon be forgotten. Thematically, in addition to examining the obstacles Reggie must overcome in his journey to maturity, the story addresses other pertinent issues, including the importance of parenting and familial support, homelessness, and the nature of faith.
Literary reviews have commented that the book may be a "hard-sell" with some readers because of its moderate pace, noting that the high number of subplots and occasionally didactic tone have the effect of slowing the progress of the narrative. Despite these reservations, however, the criticism is united in recommending the work as a whole as a valuable addition to the young adult canon of realistic fiction. Humorously written and substantial in content, with its focus on social consciousness and taking responsibility for one's own destiny, Rhuday Perkovich's initial offering is valuable as a vehicle which will challenge students to think in-depth, and stimulate meaningful classroom discussion.