Davis’ lively YA debut introduces a courageous boy who discovers that you can’t run away from your past, especially when it’s in your blood.
Buddy’s mother died in a car accident after a heated fight with her drunken father, Sebastian. Ten years later, the incident—complete with visions of the old man hurling “half-breed” and “mongrel” epithets—still haunts 13-year-old Buddy, his older brother and their bear-tracking “phD Dad,” even though the three moved to the Alaskan bush to escape the disturbing memories. Eventually, a letter arrives from Sebastian, now sober and looking to make amends. At first, Buddy’s reticent, too bitter and confused to accept his grandfather’s entreaty, but he eventually goes back to Montana to spend the summer on the Flathead Indian Reservation. When asked what he’d like to be called, Buddy tells Sebastian, “Call me James, like people that don’t know me.” But as time passes and the two bond over their respect for nature and a love of fishing, Buddy capitulates and begins to enjoy his time with the Native American side of his family and his newfound friends, including cute, redheaded Emerry and “careless,” misunderstood Dave. As a hot, dry July encroaches, wildfires force an evacuation, and the sudden disappearance of Emerry calls for Buddy and Dave to become men. In Buddy, Davis has created a convincing, winning narrator whose voice captures the inequities and insecurities of childhood. His reflections on nature conjure a touching reverence for the unspoiled Northwest, and his first encounter with Emerry humorously engages the reader while setting up the book’s delightful leitmotif: Buddy’s recurring dreams, seemingly infiltrated by spirit animals who warn of impending danger and heighten the book’s growing tension. In another clever device, Buddy desires to increase his vocabulary, choosing a new word each month and using it whenever he can. In the spirit of his self-imposed lesson plan, this “superb” novel is “risible” and full of characters with “tenacious” hearts.
A fresh take on a hero’s journey that all kids will enjoy.