This debut focuses on a familiar character in middle-grade lit, the perennially bullied kid—except this time, he's unexpectedly victorious, early in the story.
The twist to bullying victim Rodney's story makes this stand out from other books on the topic, and it also allows for some humor. He was bullied in his old school in Brooklyn; when his family moves to Ohio, he expects (and gets) more of this same. It's only due to blind luck that a stray baseball hits bully Josh, and the kids all think Rodney threw it. Rodney's problem then morphs from the typical coping-with-a-bully challenge to figuring out how he's going to keep up his misbegotten reputation as a tough guy. First-time novelist Starkey gets kids' voices and anxieties mostly right and clearly understands the playground dynamic. However, there are many pop-culture references here, including some that kids will get, such as, " 'Mmmmmmm …White Castle,' my dad murmured, sounding a lot like Homer Simpson"; a typical reader might not recognize others, such as a reference to a dilapidated house on Halloween: "I thought we lived in Garrettsville, not Amityville." Some have more of an impact than others on a young reader's ability to follow the storyline.
In general, this is an enjoyable read about coping with bullying, an unfortunately evergreen situation. (Fiction. 9-11)