The principles and practice of Aikido—and a talking sleeve puppet that won't let go of his hand—help a lad come to terms with suppressed anger over his parents' divorce.
Parker wrongly (or perhaps rightly) considers himself a "pretty happy, pretty ordinary kid" until the decrepit hand puppet he finds in a garbage can not only refuses to come off but delivers ill-tempered insults, often in the hearing of others. The refusal of his parents, his sixth-grade classmates and even his best friend Wren to believe that "Drog" has a mind of its own trigger outsized bursts of rage. Parker finds temporary peace in practicing the inner balance and (accurately presented, if a little too easily learned) harmonizing responses to attacks he picks up at a nearby school of Aikido. Eventually, though, he loses control of his temper and soundly thrashes a bully. Parker's shame ultimately leads to a breakthrough and better self-control. The puppet plays a secondary role to the martial art in resolving Parker's conflict, and though Cowing's efforts to keep who's really doing the talking ambiguous are too obvious, she engineers a cleverly credible way to separate boy and puppet at the end.
Readers might wish for more Drog and less emotional turmoil, but a sturdy debut nonetheless. (Fiction. 11-13)