Then yesterday, I found Bluefish by Pat Schmatz. I read the inside cover which says this:
Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he's missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there's just the cramped place he shares with his well-meaning but alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of passing when he's called on to read out loud. But that's before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn't take "pass" for an answer--a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it's before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own. With sympathy, humor, and disarming honesty, Pat Schmatz brings to life a cast of utterly believable characters--and captures the moments of trust and connection that make all the difference.
And I sighed. I'm tired of these sorts of books. Poor kid. Bad home life. New school. Learning disabilities. People who help him. Blah, blah. I don't mean to totally disparage what are sometimes called, quiet books, but my tolerance for them, my interest in them, is not as high as it should be.
Then I started reading.
And I didn't stop reading until late last night. This was not good. Sam is out of town, the kids were in bed, the house was completely silent, and I should have been writing. Completely silent writing time is precious, like really good cheesecake. But I could not stop reading until I found out what happened, and even more significant, I didn't want to peek at the back to find out what happened. I wanted to read every word.
I'm going to study this book to see if I can figure out what made this one stand out among so many books that are exactly the same. I don't know if I'll find the answer, but you must read it. I'd say it is for middle school kids and up (the main characters are fourteen), and any adult who enjoys YA books would love it. I must give a warning that there are five or six mild swear words in this book, all said by a tough-love grandpa, so that may determine whether or not you give it to your child to read. I'm going to have Mary read it, to experience a book that comes full circle, where the characters grow in amazing, believable ways, and goodness prevails.