Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nobody's Business? Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford

"Okay, then, who are you?" her husband asked.

At that moment something--or somebody--came over me. I felt a kind of electric charge race from the top of my head down to my silver lightning-bolt tennis shoes as the answer popped into my brain....

I pumped up my chest and tossed my cape. I stood with my legs apart and put my fists on my waist. Then, with the biggest, bravest smile I had never smiled before, I proudly announced: "You can call me Captain Nobody."

Ten-year-old Newton Newman is short and skinny and virtually invisible to everyone but his family, especially his football star big brother Chris, and his two also ignored friends, J.J. and Cecil. "I didn't know Chris Newman had a brother!" most people say when Newt claims to be related to the awesome quarterback of the Fillmore High Ferrets.

And when Chris is knocked into a coma scoring the winning touchdown against their crosstown rivals, the Merrimac Chargers, Newt becomes even more the forgotten man. Tag-teaming their stays at the hospital with the unconscious Chris, his parents are not home most of his waking hours, and with Halloween approaching and his old cowboy costume in tatters, Newt is on his own to come up with Halloween trick-or-treat gear. J.J. insists that to get some attention the three should dress as their own "inner person," and she appears in a self-designed glittering black and silver gown as Queen Splendida. Cecil is togged out as the young Mozart in green velvet knee breeches, but all Newton can come up with is a ragtag collage of his big brother's outgrown red sweatpants, silver sneakers, and a cape hastily fashioned from a windbreaker tied over his shoulders. But when the creative J.J. snatches up one of Chris' monogrammed sweatbands, snips out eyeholes, and pulls it over his head, Newt feels himself suddenly transformed.
When I turned and saw myself in the front room mirror, I caught my breath.

Because it wasn't me.

The thin strip of fabric that hid my face had turned me into someone I didn't recognize. And--this was even weirder--from inside looking out, I felt protected. Hidden, even.

At the first house they visit, Newt adlibs a name to match the monogram on his mask and Captain Nobody is born. Buoyed by his empowering alter ego, Newt wears the costume to school the next day and discovers that everyone seems to treat him differently. And, mysteriously but serendipitously, being Captain Nobody changes Newt into a somebody. It seems that Captain Nobody is always in the right place at the right time to become a hero. He helps a lost and frightened old man home, foils a jewelry store robbery, and, chasing the high school's mascot Ferocious the Ferret across a busy highway, stops traffic just in time for a disabled small plane to make an emergency landing on the suddenly empty stretch of asphalt.

Newt manages to keep his identity secret from the press through these adventures, but as Captain Nobody seems to take on a life of his own, events begin to spiral beyond his control until suddenly he finds himself--always terrified of heights--climbing the town's dilapidated water tower ladder on a mission to save a life. Being a superhero is hard, but Newt finds that he has the right stuff inside, even when it comes to finding a way to rouse his big brother from his coma at the hospital.

Dean Pitchford's latest, Captain Nobody (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009), tells the story of the quintessential little guy who proves to himself that he, too, is somebody--a city-wide hero that makes his all-star big brother proud to introduce himself as "Newton Newman's big brother."

Dean Pitchford, author of the hilarious and highly reviewed The Big One-Oh (reviewed here), in his former show-biz persona the author of songs such as "Footloose," and "Fame," manages to cover family emergencies, school bullies, self-esteem issues, crooks, and death-defying disasters, keeping all these balls deftly in the air while delivering a poignant, yet hilarious second novel which will have reluctant readers flying through this slender page turner. Fans of Dan Gutman's guy stories will find Captain Nobody one of their favorite action figures.

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