A middle-grade novel tells the story of an outsider who searches for something that will make him special.
Jarrod likes bugs. He keeps them in his bedroom and feels that they are misunderstood, just like he is. (Especially the cockroaches he’s training.) Jarrod can identify lots of different insects. He knows all about them and is happy to share. This, unfortunately, has made him an outcast. He has one friend, Gavin, but to all the other eighth-graders—indeed, to the rest of the school—he is “Bug-boy.” If that weren’t bad enough, Jarrod has a condition. Every couple of days or so, without warning or explanation, he passes out. Nobody knows why, but he has to wear a helmet—all the time. The helmet makes him look like a bug, setting him further apart. Life is difficult; even Gavin seems as if he’s drifting away. But then Jarrod swallows a fly, and suddenly everything makes sense. His condition isn’t a weakness at all: It’s a superpower (of sorts) stemming from his affinity for bugs. But who will believe him? How’s he going to track down the sickening puppy mill he’s just seen through the eyes of a fly? Stewart writes in the first-person, present tense, bringing intimacy to Jarrod’s isolation and immediacy to his plight. The boy’s regular bug eating—which forms an integral part of the story, described copiously and in graphic detail—won’t be to everyone’s taste. (He can access the memories of the pests he devours.) Yet there’s no denying the gross-out appeal of Jarrod’s metamorphosis from passive introvert to proactive, insect-crunching champion. His relationships, moreover, are worked neatly into the plot and add depth to Stewart’s (The River Keepers, 2017, etc.) lively book. Jarrod’s interactions with his parents show how superficial his differences really are; so too do his friendship with Gavin and his awkward introduction to a student called Dog-girl and the unlikely prospect of romance. Jarrod, in short, is a character whom many young readers will recognize, perhaps with unkind preconceptions. But before they know it, they’ll likely have embraced his aptitude—his “thing”—and be rooting for him.
Unabashedly, a young hero from the margins shocks, then ultimately conquers the mainstream in this strangely compelling oddity.