Rating: Very Good
Description: Noah is not having a good year.
His mom is in prison, he's living with his mom's boyfriend--who he's sure is just waiting until his mother's six month sentence is up to kick him out--and he's officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It's Noah's fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.
One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck--she's wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she's always alone.
Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother's phone calls from jail, he can't ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause--just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.
But rescuing the bear means tackling his past--and present--head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?
Genre: Middle Grade/Ya
Why I Picked This Book: I enjoy middle grade and this looked a little darker than the ones I've read in the past so I was curious to see how it was handled.
My Impression: While I do enjoy middle grade I typically stick with the more adventure type stories. I honestly didn't see how really serious issues like substance abuse and bullying could be handled in a book geared towards children without being dismissive or melodramatic. However, this book showed me exactly how it could be done.
Noah is in a tough place. He's isolated at school by both students and teachers and people he once considered friends are at best ignoring him at worst openly making life difficult. His mother is in jail after multiple DUIs and he had a public shoplifting episode which everyone knows about. He's alone and friendless and so angry he doesn't know where to put it all. Except he isn't - his mother's boyfriend Jeff is always there even when Noah doesn't want him to be and Rina, a girl from school that he's never been friends with, won't leave him alone. As well he has his mother's sponsor, Trenton, pops up with advice support that Noah rarely wants to hear.
The fact that the reader is aware long before Noah is that these three characters care about him and will support him cut some of the unhappiness Noah exudes. As well neither of the characters tell him that he shouldn't be unhappy or that he shouldn't be angry at his mother. They encourage him to communicate with her or forgive her but never invalidate his feelings. As well the author does a good job of showing the damage done by substance abuse (Noah's mother is an alcoholic) without slipping into lecture mode.
The storyline involving the bear keeps Noah moving forward and gives him something to work towards as well as something to care about. This was a bittersweet book with a thread of hope that always present even with Noah was at his lowest. I loved Noah, Rina, and Jeff especially and was quickly emotionally invested in the book from the beginning. My only issue was that I thought the principal, Mr. Davies, was just a bit too much of a villain but that's personal preference.
Since I'm not an expert on childhood education or psychology my only benchmark to tell if I think if this is appropriate for children is to think about whether I would want my children to read it and at what age I would have encouraged it. For me I think this is a book I would highly recommend for children in the 4th to 7th grade range and I think it would work wonderfully as a parent-child buddy read. This is an emotional but not overwrought book with heart and a touch of humor.
Would I Read More of this Series/Author? I would! I was really impressed with how she handled tough and sensitive topics as well as just how readable this book was.
Would I Recommend this Book? I would. This is a good read for older children as well as adults.