Fourth-grader Waylon Zakowski is struggling to navigate change.
Most immediately, he needs to figure out how to deal with charismatic Arlo, who seems determined to splinter the formerly cohesive class into “things.” To further complicate his life, his 14-year-old sister, Charlotte, is now calling herself Neon and has gone goth. His parents seem unable to confront her, leaving him to fill the new gap in his previously loving family. Waylon is a scientist with a lot of bright but unusual ideas. As he carefully considers—as a good scientist must—the mostly wonderful world around him, he develops insights: he must become an isthmus, standing in the middle to keep the peace in school and at home. His point of view is nicely captured through his thoughtful third-person voice—authentically peppered with scientific trivia—and Frazee’s frequent drawings (only a few of which were available for review). Unexpected bits of magic add depth and an aching tenderness, as when Neon steals into Waylon’s room to play a game called OAT—One Awesome Thing—to help support her discouraged brother, later revealing that she hasn’t really changed so much. Waylon is a blond white boy, Arlo is a dreadlocked dark-skinned boy, and judging by the names, their fourth-grade Boston-area class is a diverse one.
An upbeat celebration of lively imagination, friendship, family, community, and the exuberance of childhood. (Fiction. 7-11)