Spanky McDougal, a spirited middle schooler, must overcome bullies and self-doubt in LaNeve’s debut novel.
For a middle schooler, Spanky McDougal has a lot on his plate. He just moved to Florida and started a new school where he must contend with bullies and crushes. The hardest part is that his dad is about to be shipped off to war. With his mother unable to cope, Spanky must learn to help her. But he’s still a kid, and he’s mired in a kid’s tribulations. Mack, an overgrown bully, makes Spanky’s life miserable; Jazz, a beautiful classmate, captures his heart; and Dar, a dorky know-it-all, is his only real friend. To top it off, Spanky volunteered to help out on the annual camping trip, an ordeal in itself. LaNeve’s coming-of-age tale strikes a wonderful confidence-building tone for young readers. Spanky’s distinct, honest voice engenders empathy. Best of all, LaNeve doesn’t shy away from dealing with complex issues like war, bullying and depression. The compelling Spanky has one major flaw that many kids will completely understand: Every time he has a chance to prove himself, he freezes. He can’t stand up to Mack and can’t save his teacher when she collapses, even though he knows CPR. But the mysterious and magical substitute teacher Ms. Badu just may have the power to help not only Spanky, but Mack too. The novel comes to a tense conclusion during the camping trip; Spanky might finally get the chance to prove his worth to everyone and himself. LaNeve leaves her young readers with an important message: It’s better to talk about your problems and get help than let them overwhelm you.
An endearing novel; may inspire young readers to find the hero in themselves.