Matthew Jackson is about to attend a new school, but that's not the worst of it: He hasn't done his summer reading because he thinks he doesn't know how to read, and he only has one friend, J.P. When school begins, the horrors mount. The other kids don't like J.P. -- who's a girl, to boot -- and he inadvertently breaks a box of the teacher's ornaments. Matthew hides in fear from his teacher, a.k.a. The Shark, and from J.P., who he's sure will never forgive him when she discovers he's making new friends. But the teacher forgives him; J.P. lends him a book that is so absorbing -- about a boy who dies of a bee sting -- that he reads it, although he thinks he doesn't know how; and he sets out to return a few favors to the people who have been so good to him. Gift (Next Year 171 Be Special, 1993, etc.) crams in a few too many themes: peer pressure and fear of reading, new places, new people, and teachers. Although the story is diffuse in the beginning, Matthew's voice is so appealingly realistic that it carries us through. A solid book that accurately depicts many of the heartaches of the first days at a new school.