After his mother’s death from cancer, New Jersey seventh-grader Denny “Donuts” Murphy’s carefully crafted clown persona gets him in trouble at school without easing his grief.
As a distraction, his best (and only) friend, Manny, enlists him in a candy-sales scheme to make enough money to hire helicopters or whatever it might take to entice eighth-grade “hotties” to accompany them to the spring dance. But Denny would prefer classmate Sabrina, who seems to like him. Further complicating this story of healing-in-progress is the boy’s 300-pound father’s withdrawal. Both father and son are lost in their personal miseries—a point underscored with references to Les Misérables. The first-person narration chronicles six months of madcap behavior, flights of fancy and flashbacks revealing the reasons behind Denny’s downward spiral and predictable meltdown. The boys’ freedom to roam the halls of Blueberry Hills Middle School (limited only by encounters with a villainous eighth-grader) is surprising, but otherwise the school setting will be familiar, populated by some sympathetic adult characters as well as some less attractive ones. While some readers may tire of Denny’s frenetic goings-on, others, like Sabrina, will watch and wait patiently. They will be pleased by the improbable outcome.
For middle school readers, a painful, funny and realistic picture of a family coming to terms with loss. (Fiction. 11-15)