226 p. Candlewick Press, September, 2011. 978-0-7636-5334-7. (Chosen to review for NJ Youth Services.)
Labels can hurt, as eighth graders Travis, "Bluefish" and Vida, "Velveeta" know all too well. The labels their classmates have bestowed caused Travis to retreat behind a wall of sullen silence, but Velveeta embraced her nickname and moves through school with confidence and sass.
Travis is furious with everyone and everything from having to start a new school, to his alcoholic grandfather. He is also grieving the loss of Roscoe, his beloved dog. And, he has a secret that is getting harder and harder to keep. Despite the fact that Velveeta is coping with her own great loss, she sees past his moodiness and isn't going away. She just won't let him off the hook. This disarms Travis.
But the road to this boy-girl friendship won't be an easy one. Secrets are revealed gradually, though some are not suprising. What is pleasantly surprising is how richly developed the secondary characters are. Moments of extraordinary cruelty are juxtaposed with moments of courage and kindness. Themes of redemption, forgiveness, and the power of literature are woven seamless into this sad, yet hopeful narrative that alternates between Velveeta's first-person commentary and Travis' story, which is told in the third-person.
This was a Junior Library Guild selection. I pointed it out to a fifth grade reading phenom. This little lady routinely checks out around 12 books a week from my library alone. Half of the suggestions that I make, she has already read! It has gotten so that I set aside the newest books after I process them. Bluefish was one I thought she would enjoy. Her reading tastes are pretty eclectic. She will read almost any genre and difficulty level. She'll settle down in the lounge with a stack of possibilities and read the jacket flaps and first pages of every book. Then, she'll reshelve the rejects and bring her stack for checkout. She read and loved Bluefish and when she returned it, brought her reading friend along to check it out next. I've a feeling this will be a popular book among the fifth grade, so when I saw a copy on the table at Book Eval., I snagged it in order to have a second copy available.
Lovely, lovely story. It got some decent reviews. I'm a little surprised I haven't seen more about it in the blog-o-sphere. Of the blogs in my feeder Waking Brain Cells, was the only reviewer. Here are a couple that popped up in Google Blog search:
Sal's Fiction Addiction
Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog