Sixth-grader Joe Dearborne is known in his small North Carolina hometown for being fearless, a reputation he earned for such feats as rescuing a neighbor’s dog from a burning house. But the truth is he’s just reckless: He literally doesn’t feel fear. However, after a poisonous snakebite nearly kills him, it also robs him of this gift and gives him the chance not only to be afraid, but also to learn what real courage means. His first encounter with being scared arrives in the coolly diabolical form of Mrs. Chill, who comes to look after him while his father takes care of business matters overseas. At first, Joe longs for the simplicity of his old life, but then he resolves to ignore the fact that he’s afraid of Mrs. Chill until his dad gets home. But when she turns out to be a real danger to Joe’s family and friends, he must find the courage to stop her. The allegory may seem obvious to experienced readers as Joe moves from innocence to experience in order to discover his true character. Young readers, however, will be captivated by the tightly written, suspenseful story featuring a likable main character and an engaging villain. Mitchell creates scenarios that are exciting, believable and age-appropriate; Joe goes on adventures, such as a night in the woods with a coyote, and experiences a budding romance with an equally courageous girl named Meg Darcy. The mystery of Mrs. Chill’s true motives, along with the story’s apparently paranormal elements, will make it hard for youngsters to stop reading.
A unique, engaging chapter-book adventure.