A wounded pet vulture helps Buzz, a soon-to-be fifth-grader, connect with new human friends after the pet lights up the life of a special needs child and her family.
Buzz calls to order a meeting of the Goodwill Vultures Club, consisting of one human, two dogs and Roberta the vulture. Conveniently, Buzz’s dad—whom Buzz lives with following his parents’ divorce—happens to be an ornithologist who received a permit to keep Rob. The club is interrupted by PeeWee, Buzz’s African-American best friend, who lives next door. The boys’ dialogue is sometimes dated: “And what are you doing having a club meeting with your animals? That’s just weird,” Peewee says. “Whatever, corndog.” “Your granny is a corndog,” PeeWee shoots back. When Buzz takes Rob to a Special Populations basketball game (think Special Olympics for local kids) to help cheer on Jason—Buzz’s vain, wheelchair-bound teenage brother with cerebral palsy—a threatening older boy yells that the “ugly bird” is scaring the athletes, and a lady volunteer boots Buzz and Rob from the building. The next day, and somewhat unbelievably, Buzz takes Rob to another Special Populations event at an indoor pool, where he gets to know Caroline, an outgoing classmate. Next, PeeWee tells Buzz about “Animal Heroes,” a community contest for pets who have helped people. Buzz then gets called in to the community center to discuss an incident at the pool. Expecting bad news, Buzz is surprised—though even young readers might not be—by the good news that Rob delighted an autistic girl named Chrissy at the pool. A TV news story about how the vulture drew Chrissy out of her shell makes Buzz and Rob local favorites to win the competition. (The reporter keeps calling Rob a “most unusual pet vulture”; Buzz humorously wonders what a usual pet vulture would look like.) When Buzz and Rob next encounter the aforementioned tough, older boy—the brother of a “brooding” classmate, Mark—his attitude has completely changed because Chrissy happens to be his cousin. In the end, the good outcome for Chrissy and her family overshadows the actual outcome of the Animal Heroes contest. Though this novel is stuffed with too many storylines and plot contrivances, its unusual avian hero and overall good humor will appeal to many middle-grade readers.
Amusing but perhaps spread a bit too thin.