When his father is released after serving eight years in prison for stealing, 11-year-old Kaden hopes it will be a new beginning.
Brought up by Gram—his father’s mother—in a cluster of rural cabins (a quirky setting that works), Kaden keeps to himself, spending his free time in an abandoned fire tower with Kubla, a semitame crow. But on the first day of middle school, he meets Yo-Yo, a new kid who delivers friendship to Kaden and a bit of humor to the story. After a few false starts, Kaden and his newly released father begin to form a faltering relationship, despite his father’s sometimes implausibly temperamental behavior. But when Kaden discovers his father continues to steal, Kaden must make the hardest decision of his young life. While this story admirably delves into the hard questions of personal responsibility, it conveys its theme with little subtlety. Instead of allowing readers to figure things out for themselves, the text neatly interprets and sums up each action and exchange of dialogue. The supporting characters, with the exception of the delightful Yo-Yo, are one-dimensional. And although there are valuable messages here for young readers about making mature decisions, too many scenes that impart these messages seem gratuitous and pat, lacking a clear and forward-progressing relationship to the story as a whole.
An earnest but unpolished story, it nevertheless stands out for its confrontation of a little-acknowledged subject. (Fiction. 8-10)