Thirteen-year-old Travis has a secret: he can’t read. But a shrewd teacher and a sassy girl are about to change everything in this witty and deeply moving novel.
Travis is missing his old home in the country, and he’s missing his old hound, Rosco. Now there’s just the cramped place he shares with his well-meaning but alcoholic grandpa, a new school, and the dreaded routine of passing when he’s called on to read out loud. But that’s before Travis meets Mr. McQueen, who doesn’t take “pass” for an answer—a rare teacher whose savvy persistence has Travis slowly unlocking a book on the natural world. And it’s before Travis is noticed by Velveeta, a girl whose wry banter and colorful scarves belie some hard secrets of her own. With sympathy, humor, and disarming honesty, Pat Schmatz brings to life a cast of utterly believable characters—and captures the moments of trust and connection that make all the difference. (from Amazon)
April at Good Books and Good Wine called this book understated, and I agree with her. It’s a quiet book, one of those stories that sort of lurk at the back of the library waiting for you to stumble upon it when you’re randomly searching from something to read one afternoon. Some of my favorite books are sleepers, and this one is so good it’s no surprise I enjoyed it whole-heartedly.
I mean, sure: it’s got a bit of Manic Pixie Dream Girl to it, but not so much so that I couldn’t stand to read it. Plus, Velveeta actually had a story and life for herself, outside of Travis’s own story, so it never actually went into MPDG territory. Thankfully.
The rest of it, meanwhile, was lovely. The summary makes it sound like it’s funny and dramatic, but ignore that. It’s got some clever bits, yes, and there’s some drama laced throughout, but it’s nothing like what you’d expect from just reading the summary. There was just the right amount of drama to keep things interesting while never going over-the-top. The characters were completely realistic and their reactions to events/feelings/etc. completely plausible. The story was slightly sad, but sweet. And even though it deals with some tough subjects, including alcoholism, bullying, not being able to read, and death, it’s still very…understated.
Not that it’s emotionally stunted– on the contrary, actually!– but it’s definitely not the sort of Lifetime movie emotional roller-coaster.
I suppose that some people might be annoyed by a novel that whispers rather than shouts, but sometimes you need a bit of quiet. Not everything has to be explosive, because not everything in life is explosive. Unfortunately, the explosive books tend to get more exposure than the quiet ones, but that doesn’t mean the quiet ones aren’t worth reading! And this is a book that’s worth reading.
Read: September 5, 2011