Caleb Franklin and his older brother Bobby Gene are watching the last few weeks of summer disappear before school starts, spending time in what has in the past been idyllic pursuits in the surrounding woods and fields. Caleb, though, is restless, bristling at a remark his dad makes about his being “extraordinary” and pushing against the constraints of living in small-town Sutton, Indiana. Though his dad intends it as a compliment, Caleb misunderstands, taking it as an insult because, above all else, Caleb does not want to be known as “more ordinary than ordinary.” This sets in motion a series of events that involve new and complicated friendships with people outside their usual circle, risky (and sometimes dangerous) situations resulting from disobeying parents and other adults, and, finally, some real understanding of why people act the confusing way they sometimes do.
So many important themes are covered in this book, not the least of which are the impossibility of protecting children from the realities of racism by trying to hide them away in a sheltered environment, the truth that kids only hear half of what their parents say to them (and then only understand half of that), and the need for unlimited patience in helping them find their place in the world.
The book is well-written, thought-provoking and delightful to read with not a false step anywhere. From the time you read of Caleb and Bobby Gene using their baby sister Susie as a winning bid in an auction for a bag of (probably stolen) fireworks, you know you’re in for a great ride. For me, it brought back echoes of Tom and Huck, Jem and Scout, and other memorable literary friendships. All the characters are believable and likable. I counted maybe two instances of “damn” and one reference to Bobby Gene “waking up after an embarrassing dream.” There are some tense scenes involving fights, chases and jumping on and off freight trains but nothing to get fussed about.
Get this one for your library and tell your teachers about it. It would be a great book for class study or for a schoolwide read.