cover image Death by Toilet Paper

Death by Toilet Paper

Donna Gephart. Delacorte, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-74399-0

Benjamin Epstein, 12, is having an epically bad year. His father’s death left the family saddled with medical bills, his mother loses her job, and his grandfather, Zeyde Jake, arrives unexpectedly to live with them, displaying pronounced signs of Alzheimer’s. Then, the landlord posts an eviction notice on their apartment door. Benjamin, however, is a mensch, determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father that he would take care of his mother. A contest buff, he pins his hopes on winning a $10,000 prize for the best new slogan for a brand of toilet paper. This is a profoundly sad story about a boy made to carry a heavy burden that ends, mercifully, on a hopeful note. Gephart (Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen) leavens the sadness with bathroom humor, but there’s a disconnect between the lowbrow humor and the heavier elements of the plot. Still, Ben is a character kids will root for, and he’s surrounded by family and friends who help him see things will be okay, a message that may comfort readers facing similar circumstances. Ages 9–12. Agent: Tina Wexler, ICM. (Aug.)