Thursday, May 3, 2012

May Book Pick -- Bluefish, by Pat Schmatz

Travis, an eighth grader, has more than his share of problems. He misses his old home in the country, misses his dog Rosco, who had the softest ears imaginable, and lives in a tiny place with his alcoholic grandpa who, drunk or sober, isn't very attentive. Worst of all, he has to start at a new school, and he can't read. Kids at his old school, in fact, called him "Bluefish," after the (to Travis) stupid-looking fish on the cover of a Dr. Seuss book. But at least he knew where he stood at that school. Here, he's got to figure out how to get by all over again.

Here, though, there's Mr. McQueen, who not only figures out that Travis can't read but also understands how to motivate and teach him. And he meets, or more accurately is met by, a funny girl with problems of her own who calls herself Velveeta and wears a different brightly colored scarf every day. They are joined by Bradley, a smart kid from a stable family who they suspect is slumming, but, slowly, they learn he is not.

This novel gets so many things right that I'm in my usual danger of beginning to gush about a book I love. :) Travis is lovable even though he's angry and reticent. His emotional progression is completely believable; for example, I was convinced that both McQueen's attempt to motivate Travis and Travis's resistance followed by acceptance were real and right on. The story features quirky characters without tipping over into implausibility or making me feel they're quirky for the sake of quirky. The trust that Travis and Velveeta develop progresses believably, even though there is much they never tell each other, and that's believable, too.

The choice of third-person narration in Travis's POV, with each chapter followed by a first-person snippet from Velveeta, seems perfect for this novel. As difficult as some of the issues are, there is always hope. As much as Travis and Velveeta hide things (Travis never even finds out exactly where Velveeta lives), they are always making connections. It's impossible to read this book and still be able to consider kids like Travis, Velveeta, and Bradley to be one-dimensional or stereotypes. Though this book straddles the line between upper MG and young YA, I think its usual young YA designation is very accurate. A lovely book that I highly recommend.

11 comments:

Barbara Watson said...

Sounds like one for my son (and me!) as he's straddling that line of upper MG and YA. The story sounds wonderful too. Thanks so much for sharing about it.

Mirka Breen said...

What an interesting juxtaposition of a literary novel about a MC who can't read.
I love the cover, and trust your judgment- so I will be heading out to get it.

Vijaya said...

This will be perfect for my Max. Thank you.

Medeia Sharif said...

I have this in my TBR pile. The characters sound wonderful. I should move this higher up my pile.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

This sounds wonderful. How could anyone not be interested in a character named Velveeta? Also, I love that middle zone between MG and YA. Thanks for this!

Faith E. Hough said...

Don't worry about gushing. I think we all enjoy your gushing! :)

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

Great review. I like what you said about the quirky characters who aren't quirky just for the sake of being quirky.

This sounds like a book I'd really enjoy!

Susan Fields said...

That sounds wonderful! I usually read only upper YA, but this sounds like one I might really enjoy. Thanks for the review!

Marcia said...

Thanks, all! I think/hope you'll all enjoy it. Like Medeia, I'm shuffling and reshuffling my TBR pile lately. It's just hard to know what to read first sometimes.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Bluefish sounds like a great mg with a male POV....There needs to be more books with male main characters.

Thanks for the review, Marcia. :)

Nora MacFarlane said...

This one is going in my ever-growing TBR pile. Sounds like a great read.