ON THIN ICE by Michael Northrop


Age Range: 8 - 12
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A boy with a rare spinal deformity makes a desperate bet to keep his home.

“[E]verything you subtract adds up,” 12-year-old Ked Eakins—aka “Freakins”—remarks, summarizing his life till seventh grade. After Ked was diagnosed with kyphosis, his mother left—taking her good job and health insurance with her—and his friendships dwindled like “a game of musical chairs.” Now, Ked lives on “the edge of the edge” of “failing mill town” Norton, Maine, with his dad, who’s had his factory shifts cut in half—and gambled two months’ rent away. Frantic, Ked himself gambles on restoring and selling a minibike in time to avoid eviction, but roadblocks abound. Northrop depicts the everyday realities of poverty in unvarnished detail: Ked digs through trash cans for redeemable bottles, maximizes half-hour public-library computer sessions, and buys his “good” clothes on sale at the outlet stores. But Ked’s pragmatism and determination keep bleakness at bay, and kindness comes from unexpected people. Like Ked's run-down hometown, his frank, introspective narration offers some beautiful moments; a carburetor, for instance, is “small and self-contained, like a heart.” The author’s portrayal of Ked’s dad’s gambling addiction and its toll on Ked is unflinching but not without hope. The ending is realistically satisfying, and readers will appreciate Ked’s realization that his back is “what [he looks] like,” but “[he’s] what [he does.]” Most characters appear white; Ked’s friend Nephi is a Somali immigrant.

A sharp, sympathetic insight into poverty, family, friendship, and forgiveness. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: July 30th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-545-49590-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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