Friday, October 5, 2012

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

Toby can't wait to get out of tiny Antler, Texas. Even at 14, he knows there's nothing to do there, and a there's a great big world just waiting to be discovered. So then why is Toby so upset when his mom goes to Nashville to follow her dream?

Toby's best friend Cal has an older brother serving in Vietnam (the book is set in 1971), and his achingly homesick letters to the boys begin to open their eyes to the wonders of small-town summer. And the arrival of a trailer carrying the "World's Fattest Boy" also helps change Toby and Cal's perception of their hometown.

The boys are the right age for a major life change, and they really mature in this book - a lot happens during this one summer: love, loss, friendship, responsibility, and a reimagining of their ideas on family. The characters are well-formed, with realistic flaws and true-life personalities. And while it's a preteen book, I enjoyed that there's a well-executed cast characters in all stages of life who accompany the boys in their journey of discovery.

It's an excellent book - for kids coming into their own journey to adulthood, or for adults who've already lived it. The historical setting will make the story more relevant for those of a certain "vintage," but the tale is universal for contemporary readers, too.

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