In a companion to Firegirl (2006), Abbott turns his attention to Jeff, who was the obnoxious, bullying best friend of the earlier book’s protagonist, Tom.
Jeff, now in eighth grade and at a different school, is struggling to deal with the issues caused by his single mom’s alcohol problems. His father, who left to live with a girlfriend, provides little in the way of financial help and even less emotional support. After his mom loses her job, their lives believably spiral downward. They are evicted, leading to a series of overnight stays in increasingly unpleasant circumstances that finally culminate in a frigid night in the car and then a move to a shelter. Jeff is determined to keep his situation a secret, but Hannah, a sensitive classmate, begins to suspect. When help does eventually appear, it’s from an unexpected source: Tom, whom Jeff has avoided since their falling out in seventh grade. What elevates this effort above so many other inadequate-parent tales is Jeff himself. It’s because he’s a tough kid to like: His first-person narration reveals that he’s angry, quick to judge, and eager to mouth off or push back against any show of kindness. It’s only when the obstacles become insurmountable that he matures enough to distinguish between his friends’ compassion and the pity he despises. Abbott uses naming conventions and cues such as hairstyles to hint at race in this diverse environment; Jeff and his family present white and Hannah, black.
A moving, realistic coming-of-age tale. (Fiction. 10-14)