Kenny is smart and a good student, but he seems to have a "pick on me" sign on his back. He is a walking target and the brunt of every middle school bully's prank. Then one day he snaps and gets into a fight with one of the tough kids, Ray-Ray. As a punishment the new principal assigns Kenny to teach Ray-Ray chess. As they meet to practice every day after school, Ray-Ray volunteers to teach Kenny how to be a tough guy, too. But what will Kenny have to give up to end the constant bullying and become part of the rough crowd? Patterson intermingles the familiar middle school story with comic book type illustrations of Kenny's imaginary alter-ego, the superhero Stainless Steel. Stainless Steel's battle with his evil clone mirrors Kenny's internal battle as he decides between right and wrong.
I listened to this book on recording, and then looked at the illustrations after I had finished. I can see that kids would like the sarcastic cartoon illustrations, but I actually liked just hearing the story better without them. I especially didn't like the cartoon of the grandmother, but maybe that is because she was the character with which I, as a past middle age woman, most identified. Overall, this is a good portrayal of how a good kid could get sucked into a bad crowd, but also, how a good kid can resist getting sucked in. It doesn't have the classic middle school humor of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but it has a good, and I think, realistic message. 273 p