cover image Reaching Dustin

Reaching Dustin

Vicki Grove. Putnam Publishing Group, $16.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23008-0

The swamp-dwelling, shotgun-wielding Groats are the pariahs of Carly Cameron's rural Missouri community, and Carly is understandably horrified when she draws Dustin Groat as a partner for a class project on interviewing. Determined to do well on the assignment and thereby earn the position of sixth-grade newspaper editor, Carly forces herself to swallow her repugnance at Dustin's poor hygiene and antisocial behavior. She is shocked to learn about his deplorable living conditions and history of abuse, but she is even more surprised to discover his gentleness with animals and his passion for music. Partly motivated by guilt over humiliating and belittling him back in second grade, when he was the class bully, Carly urgently tries to ""reach"" Dustin and save him from his despicable family. Grove's (Crystal Garden) heartfelt story unmasks the vulnerabilities of two preadolescents from very different walks of life. The author is careful to develop Carly as fully as she sketches Dustin's plight. Carly's problems, more universal than Dustin's (she worries about her friendships, her image and identity), will invite readers' sympathy; they anchor the exploration of a frighteningly foreign milieu in the comfortably familiar. Ages 10-up. (May)