This is the third Gary Schmidt book I have read, and the third one I have really, really liked. All three were different but have a literary quality which draws you in. Mr. Schmidt is a true wordsmith -- writing the stories he needs to write, making them all accessible yet lyric, simple yet complex. There is something truly intangible in how he is able to make every story seem real and personal, not to mention creating characters you want to reach out and hug through the pages. In this story, sixth grade farm-boy Jack gets an eighth grade foster brother named Joseph. (The name, by the way, is not accidental. I suspect a biblical connection, although the reference is subtle, at best.) Joseph has had a hard time of it. Gary Schmidt often touches on abuse in his books, but does so with a light pen. The point is made for the older readers in a way which younger readers may miss, but that's okay. It's part of the whole style. Take this passage -- elegant in its clarity: "During the day, the air glistened with hovering ice. At night, the stars were razor sharp. At dawn, the sunlight went straight up in a hazy column. And sunset closed the day with a quick wink." It is this kind of depth which makes his books so brilliant and universally appreciated. This novel, a selection in "March Book Madness" last year, was hugely popular with the many Middle School students who read it. This is good to know, as I would have suspected the emphasis on rural New England life might not appeal to the urban set we have here. Obviously, "the story" shines through, even if the experience is different from what students here are familiar with.
While Mr. Schmidt's stories often have a dark thread, this one ends on a truly devastating note. I always struggle with endings like this. On one hand, you kind of see it coming, on the other, you hope against hope that it "goes another way." Jacqueline Woodson once said that she writes the endings she has to write, because the characters and the narrative give her no other choice. So it is, I believe, with Gary Schmidt and this tale. While hugely sad, it did come off as genuine, and, given the space allusions in the story, a kind of way that the universe works sometimes.
Once again, Bravo. Another powerful novel by a skilled writer.