It troubles 13-year-old Buck Anderson that he’s keeping his family in the dark about key facets of his life. Buck is being bullied because he stutters; an elderly neighbor, a former speech pathologist, is working with him to reduce his stuttering; and he has discovered a hole in the countryside that leads to a network of underground tunnels, which he has explored alone—breaking the cardinal rule of caving. The smallest kid in seventh grade, Buck has felt friendless ever since David, his best friend and fellow caver, left their rural Virginia town. Naylor (the Alice series) juggles these plot elements with aplomb, keeping the novel’s adventure component alive while exploring Buck’s angst, eroding self-esteem, anger, and strained relationship with his well-intentioned if sometimes misguided family. In the story’s most harrowing sequence, Naylor brings the book’s themes together when bullies abandon Buck in a deep pit, and he has to rely on his caving know-how to save himself. Writing with characteristic sensitivity, Naylor delivers an engrossing account of a boy’s interior and exterior struggles. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/19/2015 Release date: 01/12/2016 Genre: Children's
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