Southern writers have an intimate and loving relationship with the English language that eludes many, and author Wiles is a modern inheritor of that proud tradition. There's a very rare and wonderful writer's trick that only a very few authors have ever been able to pull off, in which a silly and essentially meaningless (outside the book) phrase is, by the power of the writing and story, turned into something not only meaningful, but powerfully emotional. Harper Lee did it with "Hey, Boo." Patricia MacLachlan did it with "Rock, paper, scissors." And now Deborah Wiles does it with "I got a toad to swallow."
This kind of writing is a palimpsest, in which the story is just the top layer, the carrier wave, of something far richer and deeper -- in this case the haunting, aching beauty of a child struggling to grow. The story is one that most kids will love. It's funny, at times silly, with warmly delineated characters (many of whom have appeared in the author's two other novels), and some great sports action. But, in that rich, gorgeous, wisely empathetic style that it seems only Southern writers can do, this very accessible story will draw young readers in, and then carry them to a greater understanding of others, of themselves -- and of Walt Whitman.