cover image Chicken Boy

Chicken Boy

Frances O'Roark Dowell, . . S&S/ Atheneum, $15.95 (201pp) ISBN 978-0-689-85816-1

As sensitively wrought if not quite as engrossing as Dowell's Dovey Coe , this slice-of-life novel shows the hurt, pride and hidden potential of a boy from a dysfunctional family. When Toby McCauley enters seventh grade, everyone expects him to be as much a troublemaker as his older siblings and as "crazy" as his grandmother, who gets arrested after driving up the sidewalk to drop Toby off at junior high for his first day of school. Upholding McCauley tradition, Toby does play the role of a rebel at first, peeving Coach Kelly by refusing to change his clothes for P.E. and earning himself a suspension for getting into a fight. It isn't until he finds a friend in classmate Henry, an aspiring chicken farmer, that Toby begins to turn things around. Using economical prose, colorfully strewn with rural dialect, the author traces how Toby, previously a loner, learns to trust people outside the McCauley clan as he helps Henry and his younger brother raise chickens. If Toby doesn't share Henry's passion for hens (at least at first), he does appreciate his friend's stable home life and gentle encouragement to embrace rather than resist opportunities to excel. Once again displaying a keen ear for dialogue and a skill for painting pictures with words, the author creates a story of friendship and family conflict that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Ages 10-up. (Aug.)