Kate Tyler compromises her own values to protect her brother from bullying in this follow-up to Cummings’ The Red Kayak (2004).
Following his release from a juvenile detention center in which he was incarcerated for causing the drowning of a toddler in a kayak he and friends damaged, 14-year-old J.T. (called “Chicken Man” due to the family business) encounters vicious bullying at school. Kate, one year younger, tries to stop the bullying, even when it involves cheating: doing homework for Curtis, one of the worst bullies. Kate develops a relationship with Curtis and begins to empathize with him. As Kate weighs the importance of supporting family versus the immorality of cheating, she realizes that different situations call for different responses—things are not always black and white; there are many gray areas. Kate is a savior, trying to save not only her brother and her family, but also the chickens that they tend in deplorable conditions for a large agribusiness. Cummings touches on many issues, from environmental concerns to the pains of growing up, from antibiotic-resistant superbugs to forgiveness, yet ably manages to keep the story progressing engagingly. Minimal but sufficient back story allows this novel to stand alone.
Realistically presenting the situational rather than absolute nature of some difficult choices, this engrossing novel provides lots to ponder and discuss. (Fiction. 10-14)