A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 8:36 am

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Al B

Adults

Nonfiction

biography and memoir, school

In brief

4

For anyone who's tried a little too hard to forget seventh grade, this memoir suggests it just might be worth remembering, no matter how awkward.

How well do you remember seventh grade? Actually, it may be more appropriate to ask whether you even want to remember seventh grade at all. In selecting the height of the tween years for this memoir of his childhood, Kevin Brockmeier has isolated the point in life at which just about everyone reaches peak awkwardness. Whether you were cool or geeky, popular or a wallflower, class clown or teacher's pet, or maybe just had no idea where you fit in, it's quite possible that seventh grade is a time you would prefer not to revisit.

Luckily, Brockmeier has taken up the task of remembering seventh grade so we don't have to. As depicted in A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, Kevin's seventh-grade experience is far from extraordinary. He loses friends, makes friends, gets picked on, nurtures hopeless crushes, is nervous in the locker room and makes two terribly unfortunate costume choices on school dress-up days.

Primarily an author of fiction with strong elements of magical realism, Brockmeier writes here in the third person and focuses on brief, episodic stories, resulting in a book that reads like a novel. He also displays a willingness to bend the conventions of the typical memoir, at times inserting scenes of pure fantasy into the narrative. Where the book excels is in maintaining its focus on a kid's thoughts, feelings and experiences while still being tempered by an adult's perspective. Brockmeier expertly captures the odd tweenage ability to retain the carefree spirit of childhood while at the same time interpreting each challenge of growing up as if it's literally the greatest struggle a human has ever endured. Young Kevin's adolescent humiliations are often cringe-worthy, but they are never dwelled upon, and this gives the book the flow of a real life as opposed to a story concocted for maximum dramatic impact.

The look and feel of the book itself is cleverly nostalgic, featuring ubiquitous Cold War-era reinforced school library binding and a cover design that looks like it was pulled from some instantly outdated, psychedelically illustrated textbook from that same time. Appearances aside, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip is far from a simple nostalgia trip. In wading back into the world of seventh grade, Brockmeier crafts a charming story of the end of childhood, subtly marked with an adult's insight about what it means to begin to grow up.