A boy, desperate and broken, and a young bear with its head caught in a bucket: Vrabel (Pack of Dorks, 2016, etc.) sensitively interweaves these two disparate plotlines.
Noah only gradually reveals the depth and breadth of his issues. His mom’s in jail for a third drunken driving offense. He’s living with her most recent boyfriend but lacks faith that any adult, even steadfast Jeff, can be relied upon. A year ago, right after his mom’s arrest, Noah tackled a mentally disabled kid on his own football team, his brutality leading to the league’s revoking their championship and barring the team altogether. And then there was the shoplifting incident that followed. Now it seems like everyone hates Noah—even teachers and school administrators, who disparage him and view him as a hopeless case. The only exception is Rina, a smart, unpopular classmate who remembers who Noah once was and understands both his journey to despair and a possible path to redemption. Together they launch a campaign to save the bear, and along the way, they save Noah, too. The characters’ races aren’t revealed and therefore imply the white default. Noah’s first-person narration is spot-on, age appropriate and full of anger with brief flashes of insight. The trope is well-worked; this effort rises above the pack, believable and ultimately uplifting.
Engrossing, satisfying, and compassionate. (Fiction. 11-14)