The Misfits by James Howe begins as Bobby Goodspeed is working his very first shift as a tie salesman at the Awkworth & Ames Department Store. His new boss, Mr. Kellerman, is called Killer Man behind his back because he is so mean and grumpy. He is clearly annoyed at being assigned a twelve-year-old assistant, and he hopes to find a reason to fire Bobby. Bobby does his best to work hard because he and his dad need the extra income. As he finishes the shift, he idly wonders if life will get easier in adulthood. He reflects that it will probably get harder. After all, life is not easy for any of the adults he knows.
In seventh grade, life is already pretty hard for Bobby. He and his friends are constantly being called demeaning names. Skeezie is accused of being a hooligan because he wears leather and spikes his hair; Joe is ridiculed for being feminine and creative; and Addie, the only girl in the group, gets teased for being smart and tall. People make fun of Bobby because of his weight. He has been called “Pork Chop, Roly-Poly, Dough Boy, and Fluff.” The last of these names, which he earned in third grade for eating peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches every day, has always bothered him the most. When kids call him Fluff, Bobby thinks:
This is stupid, because there’s a lot more to me than half of what I put in a sandwich.
Together, Bobby, Skeezie, Addie, and Joe are the Gang of Five—even though there are only four of them. The name of their gang is a joke, but they also “figure that there’s one more kid out there who’s going to need a gang to be part of.” They certainly are not the only misfits at Paintbrush Falls Middle School. They are just the only misfits who have Addie as a leader. Addie is brave enough to say what she cares about and stubborn enough to stand by it, no matter what.
On the second Monday of seventh grade, Addie refuses to get up and say the Pledge of Allegiance in her homeroom class. When the teacher, Ms. Wyman, asks why, Addie stands to explain that she feels the Pledge is a lie. The United States is supposed to be the land of freedom, but liberty and justice are not truly available to everyone. When Addie sits back down, the class hears the sound of an enormous fart. DuShawn Carter, who sits next to her, placed a whoopee cushion on her seat.
That afternoon, the Gang of Five go to a local diner called the Candy Kitchen, where Addie brings up the subject of the Pledge of Allegiance. Skeezie and Joe keep changing the subject, but Addie keeps changing it back. Eventually Bobby points out that Addie cannot increase liberty in the United States by refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance in seventh grade homeroom. Besides, he tells her, no kid will ever be allowed to refuse to say the Pledge at school.
On Tuesday morning, Joe finds fagot written on his locker. “Don’t they teach spelling in this school?” he says. He trades insults with Kevin Hennessey, a popular kid who denies leaving the message—but has no problem calling Joe “faggot” to his face. Bobby reflects on the day he met Joe. Both boys were four at the time, and Joe was wearing a dress. Joe no longer wears dresses in seventh grade, but he still does not dress like a typical boy. He colors his hair and keeps one fingernail brightly painted.
In homeroom, Ms. Wyman makes an announcement that the student council elections will soon begin and that each student should be registered as a Democrat or a Republican if they want to run. Addie says that Independents should also be included, but Ms. Wyman says that the school has a two-party system. Addie refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance again, and Ms. Wyman sends her to the principal’s office. As Addie walks out the door, DuShawn sends a spitball flying after her.
Bobby continues to work as a tie salesman after school. Joe’s aunt, Pam, works at a beauty parlor in the same mall, and Bobby likes seeing her because she is beautiful and glamorous. During his break, he talks briefly with her about Mr. Kellerman, whom she calls a “sad character.” She says that he lives with his mother and seems lost in life. This makes Bobby think of Mr. Kellerman as less terrible and more human, which is inconvenient for him
because when you get down to it, thinking of somebody as 100% human seriously gets in the way of hating them.
At school, Addie continues to have a hard time with the teachers because of the stand she is taking on the Pledge of Allegiance. Rather than back down, she decides to take even more action. She asks permission to found a new political party, the Freedom Party, to represent minority issues in the school elections. She knows that popularity is very important in junior high elections, so she asks DuShawn Carter to run for president for her party. DuShawn is popular, smart, and Black. He says that he has never been mistreated because of his skin color, and he points out that the misfits at Paintbrush Falls Middle School face more discrimination than the Black kids do. Nevertheless, he agrees to run. Addie knows few other minority students, so she fills in the rest of the ticket with White kids.
At school, the Gang of Five begins hanging posters for the Freedom Party—only to learn that the school principal, Mr. Kiley,...
(The entire section is 2210 words.)