Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Student Body

Have you ever considered that it’s often the changes in a student’s body that determine his or her place within The Student Body? Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach puts that reality at the center of Felton Reinstein’s story. For his entire 15 years, Felton has been the butt of the jocks’ jokes (they call him “squirrel nuts”). But during a spring gym class, he sprints the entire 600-yard dash, outrunning the best runners. That summer, as Felton continues to get taller and meatier, the jocks claim him as one of their own. Felton’s physique earns him a place with the popular crowd.

The same holds true for young women. The ones who get curvy first draw the attention of their male peers (whether they want it or not) and win the loyalty (or envy) of most girls. They become the popular girls. These changes arrive seemingly overnight, often during the summer, and change everything for those individuals.

Herbach probes the complex feelings of being thrust into a world that was previously off-limits and, in Felton’s case, completely unsought. There are advantages and disadvantages. As his mother falls apart, Felton has another place to go. On the other hand, immersing himself in this alternate refuge can feel like a betrayal to his family. His crush, Aleah, also has a calling and a discipline as a pianist. While he lifts weights, she practices scales. For those of us who were late bloomers, this can be a confounding time, just waiting for your body to “catch up.” You have no control over when the changes will take place or if they will happen in the way that you would like. The book describes the emotional purgatory of not quite belonging where you once did and not quite fitting into a new realm, but moving forward anyway. Sometimes Felton jumps to wrong conclusions, sometimes he’s right. But he has to keep going. And that’s not a bad message either. Felton grapples with the balance between friends and family and his newfound athleticism, and sometimes that kind of mindful grappling is the best we can do.

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