Jesse Broadview is trying to survive junior high just like everyone else—with the addition of doing it while having autism spectrum disorder—but it gets complicated when her English teacher father is arrested for stealing money from the school.
Bullied at school, Jesse spends her time outside it training her Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, to be a bomb-sniffing dog just like her heroic, deployed mom’s. Even though he’s afraid of dogs, new kid Springer Regal is also a bit offbeat, and he and Jesse find similarities and strengths in each other. They decide they will have to investigate the theft in order to prove Jesse’s dad’s innocence, as the police are unlikely to take his claims seriously. Jesse and Springer narrow their list of suspects, but when a tornado rips through their small Kentucky town, further opportunities to be heroic abound. Moving back and forth in time, Vaught writes in Jesse’s wry, distinct voice, allowing her to explain some of her sensitivities in a frank, matter-of-fact way: “new clothes don’t have to be perfect. Just not itchy.” Readers also see how even well-meaning neurotypicals can inadvertently echo the distancing gestures Jesse endures—and has to some extent internalized—from the actively cruel bullies. But over and above all this, Jesse is a vibrant, strong, smart, funny character who happens to have ASD. Jesse, her family, and Springer present white; ethnic diversity is indicated primarily through naming convention.
An absorbing mystery about friendship, growth, and heroics. (author’s note) (Mystery. 8-12)