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Book review: A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier

In this autobiography that reads like a novel, one gawky adolescent’s prose eventually turns him into a swan

Photograph: Lauren Spinelli
A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier
By Kevin Brockmeier. Pantheon, $24.

First pubes, physical education, cool upperclassmen: The transitional seventh-grade year may offer more embarrassing challenges than any other period of adolescence. And for every traumatized soul that has chosen to block out this seminal educational cycle, Kevin Brockmeier’s memoiristic tale of fitting in and the inevitable, painful awkwardness that accompanies attempts to do so will bring every cringe-inducing memory rushing right back.

In sixth grade, Kevin and Thad are best buds; in the seventh, Thad and another student, Kenneth, start picking on their former pal because he has ancient catchphrases and dresses up like Dolly Parton on Halloween. Betrayed and seemingly friendless, Kevin goes into free fall.

There’s a strange (and superfluous) fantasy plunked down in the middle of the text—a miniature episode of The Twilight Zone with an “It Gets Better” moral for nerds—but other than that, Brockmeier’s prose zips through Kevin’s busy teenage mind with alacrity. Kevin will never get the attentions of obscure object Sarah Bell, and won’t be beloved for singing “Hot for Teacher” at the talent show, but his whiz-bang imagination and storytelling abilities will lead him away from bullies and to a better place—the proof sits in the reader’s hands.