John Lekich returns to the outsider theme of his The Loser’s Club (which garnered a 2002 Governor General’s Award nomination) with a new loser and an equally eccentric plot. In addition to being geeky and having to deal with his parents’ divorce, Raymond Dunne is plagued by medical problems including serial fainting, sneezing, and nosebleeds. He can also break out in a rash at the drop of a hat.
Raymond strives doggedly for acceptance, taking on endless leadership-building activities, including overseeing his school’s Lost and Found. Alas, the forlorn basement closet gets so little use that he resorts to stealing items for it. From afar he admires Janice Benson, an all-around overachiever two years ahead of him in Grade 12. Janice and Raymond are surprisingly alike, but, as Lekich’s story shows, the world cuts more slack for nerdiness in spectacular-looking girls than in short guys with allergies.
Raymond’s fortunes rise dramatically when he and the school’s star basketball player stumble upon a fabulous secret room behind the Lost and Found. They team up to establish a club where students can escape the overregulated life of Hargrave High, aka “the Grave.” The narrative builds slowly, but all of Lekich’s plot chickens come home to roost in the book’s final third. The tension rises as the secret hideout inevitably falls victim to its own wild popularity.
The book’s strength – the memorable character of Raymond – is also its drawback, because spending so long in Raymond’s company can be as hard on the nerves for readers as it is for his peers. But overall, Lekich, a writer and journalist based in Vancouver, takes on issues of bullying, exclusion, family breakdown, and loss with a nice balance of compassion and hilarity.