Senior year is shaping up to be the same as every previous year. Tom and Dan will hang out with each other and no one else – Tom because he’s a nerdy honor student and Dan because he’s a socially inept geek. Tom will continue to not talk to his crush and Dan will continue to be bitter about, well, everything. And they will spend every afternoon in Tom’s basement jamming.
But then Tom finds the motivation to sign up for a Battle of the Bands competition. In their search for more band members they pick up Mark, Tom’s old friend from grade school now a football star, and Jacoby, a mysterious exchange student who is a great drummer. As the band comes together, they become friends. They pick the name Stereotypical Freaks for their band because that’s what people see when they look at them. They see the stereotype and not who they really are.
While this book starts out in one place – thinking you are dealing with kids finding their place in the small universe of school – it then swerves violently into another place, where the characters are dealing with mortality and the meaning of life. Shapiro’s writing is dead-on, capturing the feeling of disenchantment of senior year and the confusion of growing up. He manages to find that balance between making each character fit their stereotype while showing the depths behind the mask. Introducing each section with a recommended play list of songs reinforces the sense of mood and theme of the book, even if you don’t take him up on his suggestion and listen to the music.
Pekar makes great use of the graphic novel medium, with long shots and close-ups to emphasize the mood as needed. For example, during a flash-back, where Tom is reminiscing about a time him and Mark were friends, Pekar switches to a very cartoony style, to emphasize that Tom is remembering a time when he was a little kid.
The theme of the book is echoed in the title. The story opens with the stereotype of high school: the nerd and the jocks, the cool kids and the outcasts. But it digs deeper and shows you more. These kids are not just what you see on the surface and Shapiro and Pekar give you that depth with precision and style.
Recommended for all teens ages 14 and up.