Beignet "Benny" Summer knows something’s wrong with his father.
Dad used to have a "collectibles" store, but since he wouldn't sell his "inventory," he got kicked out for not paying rent. In 1983 Dennis Acres, Mo., a town of 52 (now that Benny's mom's gone home to New Orleans), everyone knows everyone else's business (and most are annoyed by what they know). Benny gets a job at the local radio station to scrape together money to pay the phone bill so he can stay in touch with his mother. She's planning to get settled and return for him at the end of the school year, but Benny's dad is spiraling downward fast. When the town wins a "Most Charming Small Town" contest thanks to Miss Turnipson's (more than) slight embellishment on the application, everyone knows the Summers' house needs help. However, catastrophic changes are in store for everyone, especially Benny. Klise’s tale of a small town full of nuts has its touching moments and a strongly voiced narrator, but there's no clear trajectory. Dad’s odd prescience—foreseeing the Internet, eBay and smartphones—feels out of character, and the sweet and tightly tied-up finale reads as a bit of a cheat. Readers will respond to Benny’s pluck, though, as well as his longing for a home free of junk.
A gentle entry in the kid-in-a-quirky-small-town genre. (Historical fiction. 9-12)