A white social worker helps troubled 13-year-old Butterball understand and change his actions in this tale of an outcast-turned-bully's redemption.
When the story opens, Butterball is speaking with Liz for the first time after attacking a boy for reasons he does not immediately reveal either to readers or to “this uptight white woman.” As the story unfolds, readers begin to see, if not why Butterball filled a sock with batteries and smashed it against his former friend's face, the social rewards he reaps for having done so. Popular students high-five him in the hallways, and his dad, whom Butterball visits in the city two weekends a month, tells him, “I was kind of proud of you...maybe you're not such a worthless fatass after all.” Thoughtful readers, however, will recognize his father's derision and neglect as well as the shallowness of the popular boys' interest in their newly proven tough guy. Themes of masculinity and homophobia are handled subtly and open-endedly here. Butterball is an appealing narrator, mustering as much toughness, humor and, eventually, vulnerability for readers as he does for his fellow students, his mother and Liz.
An instructive and inviting look into the psychology of a young bully. (Fiction. 10-13)