An entertaining, insightful novel that urges understanding over retaliation.



A bullied boy hatches a plan to get revenge on his bullies through social media in this novel for middle schoolers.

Zachariah Kermit Higgins—he prefers “Zach”—is short and the skinniest, clumsiest 13-year-old in seventh grade. He’s picked on by many, but the worst for the last two years has been Billie, a girl who loves to mock Zach’s height. After her latest humiliation, Zach’s shame turns to rage, and he vows to teach her a lesson. Also due for revenge is Gem, the leather-wearing leader of three mean, tough girls who push Zach around—sometimes into lockers. Zach develops an elaborate, well-researched plan, creating two fake identities on Facebook tailored to Billie’s and Gem’s personalities. Billie gets “Chad,” blond, blue-eyed, and athletic; for Gem, there’s “Samson,” who’s tough and loves wrestling videos. Zach cultivates these friendships through comments on his marks’ pages and private messages, hoping to learn secrets and weaknesses that will set up both girls for public humiliation. Chad succeeds in manipulating Billie’s emotions, but when Gem reveals to Samson her own history of being bullied and her family’s economic difficulties, Zach starts feeling uneasy. Things don’t work out exactly as he’d planned, but in the process of trying to make things right, Zach gains new maturity and insights. In her debut novel, Wood addresses several contemporary concerns, including the economic insecurity that affects Gem and her family. Her attention to kids’ use of social media is especially notable. While several novels for middle schoolers address bullying, few discuss catfishing (making false identities on social media for deceptive ends), something young people should be aware of. Zach has an engaging, age-appropriate voice. He’s both thoughtful and imperfect, his growing conscience becoming the story’s true centerpiece. Wood nicely shows how Zach, despite chafing at his parents’ restrictions, also is strengthened by their attentive care. Zach’s make-it-right campaign is a step-by-step process rather than one grand gesture, a good touch. It’s something of a shame, though, that the happy ending seems dependent on conforming: Zach gets taller and more muscular, and Gem becomes more girly.

An entertaining, insightful novel that urges understanding over retaliation.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5407-8890-0

Page Count: 126

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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