cover image The Wild Kid

The Wild Kid

Harry Mazer, Mazer. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $15 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80751-0

Readers may at first be misled, thinking that the wild kid of the title is the worried-looking boy clinging with long slender fingers to a cliff in the eye-catching jacket painting. However, once they reach the pictured climactic scene, readers may be surprised that the lad portrayed is the story's very tame protagonist, Sammy, a pudgy, maladroit 12-year-old with Down syndrome. With his simply worded third- person narrative, Mazer (Snowbound; The Dog in the Freezer) captures the thoughts and emotions--and occasionally profound insights--of someone whom most people, including the boy's own family, discount for being ""retarded."" Made to stay outside because he insulted his mother's boyfriend, ""uncle"" Carl, Sammy takes off on his bike rather than apologize. But the bike gets stolen, and in chasing down the thief, Sammy winds up lost in a nearby state forest where he literally stumbles across the eponymous Kevin. A reform-school escapee, Kevin at first keeps Sammy prisoner in his rude shelter, but then befriends him and teaches him to overcome some of his supposed disabilities. Sammy's innocent, doglike faith in suspicious, cynical Kevin is touching, yet not enough to sustain what is more like a novella than a full-length novel. And with the tensions that caused Sammy to leave home remaining unresolved upon his return, the ending falls flat. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)