Zack Delacruz can't seem to shake his bad luck. Here is just one example: he stands up from his seat in the cafeteria and his pants get stuck on one of the screws holding the chair together. The seat of his pants is ripped loose, exposing his underwear to everyone. Now that would be enough embarrassment all on its own, but no, it doesn't end there. He and his dad have gotten behind on the laundry so the only pair of underpants he had to wear that day are an old pair from several years ago with Thomas the Tank Engine on them. Major catastrophe for a middle school kid - especially in front of the new girl that he wants to impress. So there he is in all his glory with his pants hanging down to his knees in the back and everyone getting a good look at his Thomas the Tank Engine underpants that are several sizes too small and resemble a thong more than regular underwear. That's about the point when most people would hope for the earth to open up under their feet and swallow them, so imagine what it must feel like for a middle school kid who's a little on the shy side to begin with.
Zack's middle school class in San Antonio has a mix of kids much like any other sixth grade group. Blythe, the student council rep always wants to be the center of attention. There is a clique of popular girls already experimenting with eye shadow and trying to find eighth-grade boyfriends. The oddball, Janie, talks in movie quotes and gives the movie title and release date, too. Jose is known as El Pollo Loco, and as you can probably guess, is the class clown. Chloe likes Zack's friend Marquis, but her mother says she can't have a boyfriend until she's in eighth grade. And then there's the new girl, Abhi. Her family just moved from Minnesota and Zack thinks she is awesome. But whenever he tries to talk to her or impress her, it always goes wrong.
Zack's mishaps might not be so bad except that they always happen in front of everyone and then Jose always has to tease him about it. Nicknames like Dela-loser, Thomas the Tank Thong, Smellacruz, or Thomas the Stank Engine follow him through the halls and draw unwanted attention. And it really does seem as if everything is going wrong - the pants, the dodgeball incident, the day of the smelly cologne, Abhi's big brother coming after Zack in the lunchroom. Will it ever end? A lifetime of humiliation is crammed into one week of Zack's life and all he wants is to make friends with Abhi.
Author Jeff Anderson really captures the feeling of middle school. When Zack thinks things like, "So it was a firing squad - middle school style. I hate dodgeball more than math homework, Brussels sprouts, or chin-ups," sixth grade P.E. is neatly summed up. Or when Marquis is absent and Zack feels like he has "really come undone like an old bent up slinky," he echoes the feelings of everyone who has had to negotiate a bad day at school on their own. But as he observes, "Man, middle school can change on a dime. One minute you're shark chum and the next you're a celebrity everyone wants to be near." Nothing is permanent,especially in the crazy years between being a little kid and being a teenager.
Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy humorous realistic fiction about school, friendship, and figuring out who you are.
I received an ARC of the book from the publisher for review purposes.