Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)

Slob by Ellen Potter

Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)


Potter, E.  (2009).  Slob.  New York, NY: Philomel Books.


An intelligent but awkward twelve-year-old narrates this thought-provoking book. Owen Birnbaum, overweight and unaccepted at school,  has suffered a devastating loss and desperately seeks a means to turn back the clock for at least a brief glimpse into the past.  If he can use an ingenious invention, his obsessive project, to see one horrific moment from the past, Owen feels that he can have some control in his life and restore a sense of order, if not justice, in the world.   In this funny and moving story, Ellen Potter connects the reader with a boy who is suffering but not without hope and certainly not without wit.

My Impressions

I think this a well-written and moving book that really packs a wallop.  It looks at some serious psychological issues in perceptive and moving ways but manages to keep a light and entertaining tone.  I really loved this book’s ending, and I thought SLOB was especially effective in handling the issues of guilt, low self-esteem, and social isolation.  All the while, its first-person narration is consistently entertaining, funny, and thought-provoking.  The book has several surprises that really emphasize its themes and give them special impact.


[Review of Slob, by E. Potter]. (2009, Apr.15). Kirkus Reviews, 77, 447.

An intriguingly offbeat mystery concerning the theft of cookies from a boy’s lunch, at turns humorous, suspenseful and poignant. Intelligent Owen is the fattest kid in his middle school, having packed on the pounds after a major upheaval in his life caused him to begin turning to food as a source of comfort. His younger sister, who has joined up with a group at school called Girls Who Are Boys (GWAB) and taken to insisting that others call her Jeremy, coped by growing tougher. Owen, on the other hand, has become an object of ridicule due to his weight. While the Oreo heist provides the main premise for Owen to engage with other kids at school, there are a number of secondary mysteries crafted alongside it, each of them raising unexpected questions that are neatly wrapped up by the novel’s end. While some readers may balk at some of its more convenient coincidences, fans of Jerry Spinelli and others of his ilk may especially enjoy it and will be held rapt.

Knight, E. (2009, July 1). [Review of the book Slob]. School Library Journal, 55, 90.

/* Starred Review */ Gr 6-8 –Owen is the fattest–and smartest–seventh grader in his New York City school. When he’s not ducking the school bully or trying to survive the world’s most sadistic P.E. teacher, he invents things. Currently Owen has two projects–a TV that will show events in the past and a trap to catch the thief who keeps stealing the Oreos from his lunchbox. There’s a lot of middle school banter and adolescent dialogue. However, what begins as a lighthearted adventure gradually takes on a darker tone. Owen calls his invention Nemesis and insists that it needs to reach exactly two years back. As the story evolves, readers learn that there are places in town where he feels distinctly uncomfortable, and that he treasures a note that says only “SLOB.” Step by step, Owen reveals the tragedy behind his concerns. Two years earlier, he was hiding in the basement of the family store, listening as his parents were killed by an intruder. Adopted by the 911 operator who took his call after the murders, he dreams of identifying the perpetrator. Although Nemesis fails to solve the crime, Owen is finally able to find closure, with help from his sister, their friends, and, surprisingly, from the dreaded bully himself. A sensitive, touching, and sometimes heartbreakingly funny picture of middle school life.

Using in the Library

SLOB deals with the issues of bullying and social stigmatization.  What are some ways in which students can help to prevent bullying?  Discuss with students and have students create posters to encourage everyone — including students, teachers, administrators, and parents — to do their best to prevent bullying and help everyone to feel included and valued.  To get students thinking, share a passage or two from SLOB and ask what messages Owen might want to get across to others.  Then show a couple of print ads from and challenge students to create posters to display in the library or the hallway to encourage everyone to help stop bullying.

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Module 7 — Realistic Fiction (Young Adults)


Woodson, J.  (2008).  After Tupac & D Foster.  New York, NY: G. P, Putnam’s Sons.


After Tupac & D Foster is the story of two girls who, upon meeting a mysterious, world-wise girl who arrives in their neighborhood one evening, find and then lose a friend who makes their group a trio.  The new girl, who is especially fond of Tupac Shakur, makes a huge impression on her new friends and they share in her trials as she deals with the problems of being a foster child and having a mother who comes back into the picture.

My Impressions

I enjoyed the camaraderie of the three girls in this story and I think this book would appeal to a lot of kids in middle or early high school.  I also like the idea of having the characters discuss and follow the life of a real person.


Engberg, G. (2008, Feb. 1). [Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster]. Booklist, 104, 51.

Gr. 6-9 “The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.” From this first line in her quiet, powerful novel, Woodson cycles backward through the events that lead to dual tragedies: a friend’s departure and a hero’s death. In a close-knit African American neighborhood in Queens, New York, the unnamed narrator lives across from her best friend, Neeka. Then D Foster wanders onto the block, and the three 11-year-old girls quickly become inseparable. Because readers know from the start where the plot is headed, the characters and the community form the focus here. A subplot about Neeka’s older brother, a gay man serving prison time after being framed for a hate crime, sometimes threatens to overwhelm the girls’ story. But Woodson balances the plotlines with subtle details, authentic language, and rich development. Beautifully capturing the girls’ passage from childhood to adolescence, this is a memorable, affecting novel about the sustaining power of love and friendship and each girl’s developing faith in her own “Big Purpose.”

Vikstrom, K. (2008, Apr. 1). [Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster]. School Library Journal, 54, 154.

/* Starred Review */ Gr 6–10—D Foster, Neeka, and an unnamed narrator grow from being 11 to 13 with Tupac Shakur’s music, shootings, and legal troubles as the backdrop. Neeka and the narrator have lived on the same block forever and are like sisters, but foster child D shows up during the summer of 1994, while she is out “roaming.” D immediately finds a place in the heart of the other girls, and the “Three the Hard Way” bond over their love of Tupac’s music. It seems especially relevant to D, who sees truth in his lyrics, having experienced the hard life herself in group homes and with multiple foster families. Woodson’s spare, poetic, language and realistic Queens, NY, street vernacular reveal a time and a relationship, each chapter a vignette depicting an event in the lives of the girls and evoking mood more than telling a story. In this urban setting, there are, refreshingly, caring adults and children playing on the street instead of drug dealers on every corner. Readers are right on the block with bossy mothers, rope-jumping girls, and chess-playing elders. With Tupac’s name and picture on the cover, this slim volume will immediately appeal to teens, and the emotions and high-quality writing make it a book well worth recommending. By the end, readers realize that, along with the girls, they don’t really know D at all. As she says, “I came on this street and y’all became my friends. That’s the D puzzle.” And readers will find it a puzzle well worth their time.

Using in the Library

The girls in this book follow the life and music of Tupac Shakur.  Ask kids to name the musicians, actors, writers, or other artists/performers who are big influences on them.  Ask students: if you were to create a cover for a book about you, your friends, and a performer who is it important to you, what would it look like?  What would the title be?  Create the book cover, and then maybe write a table of contents or even a first chapter. Display the book covers in the library.


About Boyd Waltman

Boyd Waltman is a film editor in Houston, Texas.
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