Loser (novel)

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Loser by Jerri Spinelli (cover).jpg
Book cover of Loser, by Jerry Spinelli.
Author Jerry Spinelli
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel, Realistic Fiction
Publisher Harper Collins
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 218 (first edition hardcover)
ISBN 0-06-054074-5
OCLC 47996204

Loser is a coming of age young adult novel first published in 2002 by American author Jerry Spinelli. It details the growth of Donald Zinkoff, who is branded a "loser" by his classmates due to his cockiness, and sometimes clueless enthusiasm. The book is unique among Spinelli's work in that is entirely written in the present tense. The life lesson of Loser is about the human rudeness, the importance of failure, and how any name can be replaced with hero. It was nominated for the 2004-05 Mark Twain Award.[1]


This book is about a kid Donald Zinkoff is different from the other boys and girls. And after years of being called loser he then finally gets accepted for who he really is. The book begins with a young boy, who is soon revealed to be Zinkoff, leaving his house for the first time. He gets his first taste of freedom, and celebrates by running around and racing other kids. Even though he always loses those races, he is too enthusiastic and oblivious to notice.

The majority of the novel follows Zinkoff going through elementary school. When Zinkoff enters the first grade, he instantly does not fit in. His sloppiness and overall surplus of excitement is noted by his teacher, Miss Meeks. Despite Zinkoff's quirks, Miss Meeks instills confidence in him as well as shows him the wonders of the "Bright Wide World" at his age. She looks past all of Zinkoff's oddities like his giraffe hat and his chronic laughter and sees him as the fun-loving child he is. Zinkoff's second grade teacher, Mrs. Biswell, is the opposite. She scolds sloppiness and lack of discipline, so, unsurprisingly, she grows a deep hatred of Zinkoff. However, despite Mrs. Biswell's attempts to reduce Zinkoff's spirits, Zinkoff remains as light-hearted as ever. He also takes up soccer, and even though he lacks any skill, he still enjoys the game more than the others, who only care about winning. While in the second grade, Zinkoff bonds with his loving father by following him on his mail route. Zinkoff has to stay home for the first few weeks of the third grade due to recovery from surgery. Overcome with boredom, he tests his courage by trying to walk downstairs to the cellar with the knowledge that the Furnace Monster dwells at the bottom.

Zinkoff's life begins to take shape once he enters the fourth grade. In the fourth grade, Zinkoff gains a positive reputation for the first time in his life. Mr. Yalowitz, his fourth grade teacher, is the first of his teachers to truly understand Zinkoff's position in life, and as a result, the other students begin to take notice of him as well. But that changes on field day, when Zinkoff's clumsy athleticism loses the competitions for his team. Because of this, his teammates vocally address him as "Loser" for the first time. Even though this takes a toll on his spirit, he soon recovers and is eventually back to his old self, though now more mature (he does not laugh impulsively or scream "Yahoo" as he used to). Once he is in fifth grade, Zinkoff tries to fit in more than he used to. He briefly befriends Hector Binns, but the friendship soon falls apart. He purposely avoids Field Day once it arrives so that he does not let anybody down. When he graduates elementary school, however, he knows that he will miss everything about Elementary school, the good and the bad.

As Zinkoff enters middle school, he begins to dissolve into nothingness. He is not regarded as a loser; he is regarded as nobody. He still has fun with his life, but nobody notices him anymore. Once the school year's first snow arrives, Zinkoff finds out that a toddler in his neighborhood, Claudia, has gone missing. He realizes she ran away and decides to search for her as well. Claudia gets found a few minutes later, but Zinkoff does not notice. In fact, he trudges through the snow for seven hours in search of Claudia, all the while unaware of the state of emergency being lifted. Eventually, he is found, just before freezing, and is brought home. His family is glad to see him not hurt, and praise his heroic efforts.

The story ends with the other kids recognizing the size of Zinkoff's heart, and becoming more accepting of him than ever. They treat him like any other, and Zinkoff finally gets to play football with the other children.


Spinelli wrote that the book was intended to make the reader think about two questions: "What really makes a loser? And a winner?"[2] Zinkoff, though regarded as a loser by his classmates and some of his teachers, is shown as enthusiastic, loyal, and good-natured. He enjoys life despite what others think of him. By contrast, some of the “winners” in the story are shown to be self-absorbed, unfriendly, and insecure.


As he did in Stargirl, Newbery Medal-winning author Jerry Spinelli again explores the cruelty of a student body and how it does and doesn't affect one student, pure of spirit. Presumably if Loser makes one child view a "different kid" as a three-dimensional character, Spinelli will consider his book successful. The author recounts Zinkoff's story—a case study of sorts—in short sentences from a deliberately reportorial point of view, documenting the first years of the boy's life and his evolution into a loser. What makes the book charming and buoyant is that the reader, like Zinkoff's parents and his favorite teacher, appreciates the boy's oblivious joy of living and his divine quirks. What is less compelling about the novel is the "let this be a lesson to us" heavy-handedness that accompanies the reportorial approach. Still, Spinelli comes through again with a lively, often moving story with humor and heart to spare. (Ages 8 to 12) --Karin Snelson at Amazon.com[3]

Loser tells the story of Zinkoff, a lovable "loser" who is neither smart enough to recognize when his exuberant behavior is inappropriate, nor competitive or worldly enough to care. Despite the teasing of his peers, Zinkoff's main goals are to have fun, explore his surroundings, and see the best in others. This is what makes Loser such a wonderful read: it celebrates the child in all of us, while at the same time it points out the problems inherent in growing up. ... Fans of Spinelli's work will enjoy this vivid and poignant, though not especially dramatic, coming-of-age tale (please do note that Zinkoff is only in 6th grade when this narrative ends). I recommend it as an excellent read-aloud, and catalyst for discussion of social and ethical issues. And as usual, Spinelli delivers. — Tom Philion at The Critics[4]



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