This sequel to Holt’s National Book Award winner, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999), revisits Antler, Texas, 30 years later; this time our guide is Toby’s daughter, Rylee.
Rylee, 12, is a passionate booster of her tiny hometown. Unlike her mercurial best friend, Twig, she’s blessed with a happy family. Rylee’s stunned by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then heartsick over their faltering friendship. Joe, a new classmate from Brooklyn, provides welcome distraction. He ridicules Antler but warms to self-appointed tour guide Rylee, who piques his interest in Zachary Beaver. Learning how the attacks affected Joe’s family makes 9/11 personal to locals. Stalwart Rylee, navigating tween angst, is engaging, but comprehensive updates on characters from the first novel slow the narrative. Little has changed for the White residents. Antler’s success story is Juan Garcia, the impoverished teen from the Mexican side of town, now a world-famous golfer, his childhood home a tourist attraction. Juan’s affluent extended family includes the brilliant Garcia twins, Rylee’s classmates. A new character, Vietnamese immigrant Mr. Pham, cooks for and lives at the bowling alley’s cafe. He suddenly buys the town’s mansion, planning to open an upscale restaurant. White residents’ struggles, missteps, and achievements are affectionately chronicled; the Garcias and Mr. Pham get no humanizing backstories, and they seem to serve to validate Antler’s post-racial bona fides.
Sticks to the shallows.(Fiction. 10-14)