A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there's a little swearing and some fighting. More powerful, though, is the emotional impact on a boy who loses his father in 9/11 and then a friend to disease.
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What's the story?
Bart gets a fever and has to stay home from school, so his mother takes a day off work to stay with him. But the day is September 11, 2001, and her office is in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. His father, estranged from his mother for the past six months, is killed. When the press gets wind of it, they make him Miracle Boy, whose fortuitous illness saved his mother's life. He gets a lot of press, as a result of which he is offered a full scholarship the prestigious Baileywell Academy, known to the locals as Bullyville.
It's well named. Bart agrees to go to make his mother happy, and almost immediately begins being bullied in subtle ways. Still coping with grief over his father's death, at first he hides his experiences at school from his mother. But as the bullying gets less subtle, he retaliates in a way that not only brings it to everyone's attention, but sets off an unexpected chain of events.
Is it any good?
Unlike many stories structured like this, the three strands don't really come together at the end; instead, they resonate with one another throughout, with death as the thread that binds them. It's quite a feat of authorial sleight of hand, but this is an author in firm control of her material, so much so that she doesn't feel the need to exaggerate the bullying -- it's blessedly minor and run-of-the-mill, which, of course, makes it all the more recognizable to the reader. And its emotional impact is just as strong as, if not stronger than, something more garish. This is an author who has the confidence to use 9/11 as a plot device, and to have an ending that, after several plot twists, is still surprising yet doesn't wrap things up neatly. It's unexpected and messy and emotionally complicated. You know -- like life.