Debut author Vrabel takes three knotty, seemingly disparate problems—bullying, the plight of wolves and coping with disability—and with tact and grace knits them into an engrossing whole of despair and redemption.
Popular fourth-grader Lucy and her best friend, Becky, kiss Tom and Henry behind the shed during recess as their class looks on, Lucy’s brief, reluctant peck paling against Becky’s smoldering “suction cup” smooch. When Lucy gets home, her mother’s in labor; Molly is born later that day with Down syndrome. Back at school on Tuesday, everything has changed. Now disingenuous Becky is with Tom, and Lucy’s being shunned by most of the class. Only then does she begin to understand life as an outsider and take a closer look at other bullying victims, each nicely depicted, both negative and positive characteristics colorfully drawn. Assigned to do a project about wolves with fellow victim Sam, Lucy gradually becomes friends with him, and they discover fascinating truths about wolf packs that give them insight into the behavior of their classmates. Simultaneously, Lucy and her parents slowly, believably come to grips with Molly’s uncertain future. Useful tips for dealing with bullying are neatly incorporated into the tale but with a refreshing lack of didacticism.
Lucy’s perfectly feisty narration, the emotionally resonant situations and the importance of the topic all elevate this effort well above the pack. (Fiction. 8-12)