Travis misses his home after moving with his grandfather but even more, he misses his dog. He used to have lots of room to roam in the country, but he’s stuck in a small house with his alcoholic grandfather. At his new school, he is nearly silent but loud Velveeta will not allow him to withdraw far. She joins him at lunch after seeing Travis help out a boy being bullied, firmly adopting him and filling his silence with all of her words. The two unlikely friends are both hiding secrets. As the story progresses, the secrets are shared with the reader first and then with each other. This story explores the meaning of friendship and how we can all be friends that help one another in our own unique way.
Schmatz’s writing is clean and clear. She doesn’t fill the story with flowery language, instead exploring the story alongside the reader. The book is filled with characters who are struggling, including both Travis and Velveeta. Another example is Travis’ grandfather who is battling his addiction and trying to be a parent to Travis. There is nothing perfect here, and the message is clear that perfection is not something that is necessary or needed. It is the striving, the doing that matters.
The two main characters are well drawn and intriguing. They are very similar to one another in many ways and yet so different in others. Their struggles may not be the same, but the two definitely need one another to get through. There are also other adults who help, including one incredible teacher and a librarian. It is a joy to see two adults helping children written free of any didacticism.
This powerful read offers great characters, no easy answers, and no grand solution of an ending. It’s a book that is about the journey. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.
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