Violence paradoxically begets friendship in Larsen’s simply told chapter-book debut.
Jude is astounded to see his unaggressive best friend Sanjay and their new fourth-grade classmate Terrence trade punches to the face. The next day he runs into sullen Terrence on the street, berates him for his behavior and gets smacked himself! When Jude shares his dismay and confusion, his Indian grandmother Nani counsels understanding rather than anger or escalation. She suggests that Terrence, newly arrived in Toronto from England in the wake of his parents’ divorce, might be feeling so upset and lonely that he sometimes lashes out before thinking. Acting on an oblique hint from his own divorced mother, Jude finds a way to make peace, not just between him and Terrence but with Sanjay too—suggesting that they all team up to make and show the class how to play conkers with fallen chestnuts. Larsen only sketches in back stories and daily side business, but Nani, an enthusiastic wrestling fan, animates the small supporting cast. Moreover, Jude’s emotions are sharply felt, and his solution models a feasible strategy.Purposeful but not preachy. (Fiction. 8-10)