For white sixth-grader Maverick Falconer, life could hardly be worse.
His father died while serving in Afghanistan; he’s ashamed of his alcoholic mom, who can’t keep a job and attracts abusive boyfriends; he often misses meals and wears worn-out clothes—and, for good measure, he’s friendless, mercilessly bullied in school, and can’t stay out of trouble. He dreams of being a superhero but berates himself for weakness. Some bright spots peek through: Maverick has a loving, supportive aunt, a pet hamster, and a plastic sheriff’s badge his father bought him. This he holds onto to remember his hero dad and to bolster his courage. In fast-paced, breezy, first-person prose that’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenching, Sonnenblick creates in Maverick an endearing protagonist to root for. Despite daunting obstacles, this terrific boy retains a strong sense of self, a sense of humor, and a big heart that impels him to do what’s right, as when he defends his archnemesis. Other characters are similarly well-realized, in particular the assistant principal who projects a terrifying persona but is actually compassionate and softhearted. A daring confrontation, some startling revelations, and serious injuries lead to an emotionally satisfying ending in which Maverick acknowledges who real heroes are—and that his kindness proves he was one all along.
A winning novel that lays bare some painful truths and is sure to nurture empathy among readers. (Fiction. 10-13)