Capetanos’ debut middle-grade novel describes a year in the life of a 12-year-old boy as he grapples with the big questions of life.
Thomas “Tommy” Adkins Johnson is an ordinary preteen growing up in central North Carolina: “Almost everything about me seems average,” he narrates. His best friend is Kareem Brooks, but the two have drifted apart since Kareem has become more serious about playing basketball. Tommy also has a good friend, Mignon Eubanks, who’s not quite a girlfriend—at least not yet. At the beginning of his seventh-grade school year, his class takes a field trip to a planetarium, and learning about the vastness of space changes his outlook on life. He puzzles over tough questions, such as whether humans are alone in the universe. Did someone make us, he wonders, or are we just an accident? When Tommy’s uncle, Aaron, is killed in a motorcycle accident, he starts pondering death by reading obituaries and visiting graveyards. He decides that he wants to leave something behind when he passes away, so that people will know who he was. Mignon comes up with the idea of making a time capsule, which Tommy calls the “Time Box.” The process of constructing the box, deciding what to put in it, and figuring out where to bury it shapes the rest of his year. Capetanos depicts Tommy often contemplating the mysteries of girls and sex in this novel, sometimes crudely, as many adolescent boys do. However, the author also portrays his protagonist’s budding relationship with Mignon in a way that conveys mutual respect and genuine feeling, as she teaches him how to slow-dance and gives him his “first real genuine kiss.” Tommy tells his story as if talking to someone who’s unfamiliar with his 21st-century suburban world—a future archaeologist unearthing a time capsule, perhaps. Sometimes he comes across as too insightful for his age, but more often his 12-year-old voice sounds genuine. Due to some strong language, this realistic coming-of-age story will appeal to more mature preteen readers as well as adults who may be feeling nostalgic for their childhoods.
An understated, grounded account of getting older.