Mason is the biggest kid in 7th grade. He’s always sweaty. And when he tries to read, the words just seem to slip off the page.
His family has had some rough times lately. His mom died six years ago, hit by a car. Since then, instead of working, Uncle Drum has been selling off portions of the family’s apple orchard to developers. His grandmother quit baking and selling pies. Their house is falling apart.
To make matters worse, 15 months ago, Mason’s best friend Benny died. Mason was the last one to see him alive, and was the one who found him, dead on the ground under their tree fort in the orchard. A rung of the ladder busted, and Benny fell from the top. Mason had built that ladder, and he was sure it was strong.
A police officer, Lieutenant Baird, keeps coming around asking questions about that day. Asks him whether he likes to play practical jokes. Asks about Mason’s hand saw — the one he seems to have lost. Mason doesn’t know why the lieutenant keeps badgering him. It’s like the officer doesn’t believe he’s told him everything.
When Mason makes a new friend, he feels the weight of everything lift a little. Tiny Calvin Chumsky lives up the hill in one of the new developments, and he and Mason find a way to avoid the rotten-apple-throwing bullies in the neighborhood. Mason hopes the worst of his family’s troubles are behind them, but the mystery of Benny’s death still casts a shadow over him.
Genre: realistic fiction
Anna’s take on it:
I didn’t expect to love this book. But I did. I was quickly won over by Mason’s voice. Now I’m rooting for the book to win a Newbery award.
I had a somewhat uneven response from kids on this title. Some were really interested — they were intrigued by the mystery of what happened to Mason’s friend Benny — and it was their favorite title on my booktalk list. Others were put off by the number of problems Mason faces; they were afraid the story was going to be sad.
I talked to a 7th grader who was in the middle of reading the book. She said it was helping her not judge people. She thought she probably wouldn’t have made friends with someone like Mason before she started reading it, but now she would.