This installment in Gantos’s ongoing chronicle of his tumultuous youth opens ominously, with 14-year-old Jackie crossing the backyard with matches and a can of lighter fluid. What could possibly go wrong? Conflagrations (more than one) follow as Jack, whose family has relocated again, attempts to reinvent himself in the image of his new neighbor, notorious juvenile delinquent, Gary Pagoda. Gary’s criminal skills include shoplifting, car theft, and possible statutory rape, but he also has a predilection for death-defying stunts—“the Pagoda Olympics”—like catapulting Jackie over the house in hopes of hitting the pool. Full of “don’t try this at home” moments (to the breaking point of credulity), Jack’s interior monologue also has a heartbreaking edge, as he struggles to distance himself from his father’s derogatory comments about his size and worth. Chronologically, the events Gantos describes partially bridge the gap between Jack’s Black Book (1997) and his Printz Honor winner, Hole in My Life (2002). The book also only covers a few weeks one summer—one suspects that Gantos isn’t finished mining his childhood for novel-worthy moments. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/22/2015 Release date: 09/01/2015 Genre: Children's
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