cover image When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Kimberly Willis Holt. Henry Holt & Company, $17.99 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6116-1

Holt (My Louisiana Sky) sets her heartwarming and carefully crafted novel during 1971, but her message of tolerance is one that contemporary readers will appreciate. The moment Zachary Beaver, ""the fattest boy in the world,"" rolls into Antler, Tex., in a trailer, 13-year-old Toby Wilson stands in line with his $2 in hand, waiting for a peek. Toby can't imagine what life is like inside the cramped trailer for the 643-pound boy. When Zachary's guardian suddenly takes off, leaving him--and the trailer--in the Dairy Maid parking lot, Toby and his best friend, Cal, become his caretakers of sorts, and eventually, his friend. Through this friendship, Toby learns sympathy and respect--not just for the misfit boy but for his own recently estranged parents and a string of other quirky characters who struggle with personal tragedies. While a few of the plot points feel predictable, the well-developed characters, all fantastic and flawed in their own ways, add plenty of spice. There's Toby's mother who aspires to be the next Tammy Wynette; Scarlett, the pouty-lipped teen dream, who hopes to escape Antler by becoming a model; and Miss Myrtie Mae, the town librarian who sacrificed her one chance at love to care for her brother. Picturesque images such as Zachary's baptism in a man-made lake and the novel's culminating scene drive home the point that everyday life is studded with memorable moments. Ages 10-15. (Oct.)