cover image Me and Rupert Goody

Me and Rupert Goody

Barbara O'Connor. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34904-2

A reluctant heroine narrates this triumphant tale set in a contemporary North Carolina town where time seems to have stopped. Jennalee Helton lives in a chaotic household filled with so many siblings that she has to fight for a bed to sleep in (""My brothers are all the time saying the reason our family is named Helton is cause there's always a ton of hell going on""). Her only refuge is Uncle Beau's General Store, where her days begin with putting out the doughnuts and end with ""buttoning up"" (locking the doors) at night, and where Uncle Beau listens to her troubles and rewards her with PayDay candy bars. But when Rupert Goody comes to town claiming he's Uncle Beau's son, her world turns upside down. O'Connor (Beethoven in Paradise) orchestrates the dynamics of the trio with sensitivity and subtlety. Her small-town setting contributes to an atmosphere of a community frozen in time, with lazy afternoons spent trout fishing or sifting the riverbank for rubies, and everyone knows their neighbors on a first-name basis. But, through Jennalee's narration, readers also discover that the townsfolk raise a few eyebrows when African-American Rupert purports to be the son of a self-proclaimed ""one hundred percent pure North Carolina paleface."" Yet it's an insidious racist remark from one of those townspeople that causes Jennalee to rise to Rupert's defense and to realize how much he means to her. How this stubborn but winning protagonist travels from complete resentment to acceptance of her rival for Uncle Beau's affections is a journey readers won't want to miss. Ages 10-up. (Nov.)