The Secret of Ferrell Savage

Silly, fast-moving story of sleds and family secrets.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This fictional tale is loosely linked to the real story of Alfred Packer, who was imprisoned for killing -- and eating -- his traveling companions. An author's note encourages curious readers to research Packer's story. Kids may want to research their own family histories. Mary has a good vocabulary and routinely defines words for Ferrell.

Positive messages

The way you lose can be even more important than the way you win. Give credit where credit is due. Family history doesn't define your future.

Positive role models

Though Ferrell is tempted to eat meat, he adheres to his family's vegetarian diet. He does his best to placate Bruce at first, and later is surprisingly considerate of him. When it appears a blackmailer has gotten the better of Ferrell and Mary, Ferrell's main concern is for his friend. She's also loyal, and pays Ferrell a very kind compliment.

Violence & scariness

There are two spectacular sledding accidents, but no one's seriously hurt. There's some discussion of a man who was believed to have killed and devoured his traveling companions in the late 1800s. 

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Secret of Ferrell Savage is a humorous book rooted in a real-life cannibalism story. The true-life historical event is discussed, but the characters don't engage in any cannibalism. That intriguing history is just the backdrop for a story about middle-school crushes, bullies, and finding your own identity. 


What's the story?

Now that he's 12, Ferrell Savage is finally old enough to compete in the Big Sled Race -- but he's even more interested in making an impression on his longtime friend, Mary Vittles. But a strange new kid named Bruce Littledood shows up at the race, and he has a bone to pick with him over some family history. Ferrell grudgingly goes along with Bruce's demand for a sledding rematch, but only to help Mary keep her family's past a secret.

Is it any good?


THE SECRET OF FERRELL SAVAGE is a fast, fun read. The thrills are minor -- readers will come very close to figuring out the big secret long before Ferrell does, but they'll enjoy the journey. The sledding scenes are highlights. The best parts, however, are Ferrell's sweet and awkward feelings for Mary.

The story is a little self-consciously silly: When Ferrell does online research, he confuses "cannibal" with "cannonball." And author J. Duddy Gill gets goofy with all the characters' names: There's Bruce Littledood, Ms. Goodkind, and Ms. Bland, for example, and of course Ferrell Savage. Despite some rough patches, this slim novel's an entertaining read and a promising debut for Gill.


Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what traits in their family seem to be passed down through generations. How does your family's history influence your life today?


  • Why do you think books set in middle school are so popular these days? 


  • Does the crush in The Secret of Ferrell Savage ring true?  What other books have you read that deal with middle school crushes? 


Book details

Author:J. Duddy Gill
Topics:Friendship, Great boy role models, History
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:February 4, 2014
Number of pages:176
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The Secret of Ferrell Savage was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?
Thanks – we appreciate your feedback!

Digital Compass