The lovely and talented Sharon Hancock from Candlewick Press asked if I would be interested in writing a discussion guide for the new Ron Koertge novel. I agreed without even reading the ARC as I am a huge fan of his work to date. Boy, am I glad I had the good sense to agree to do this (though now I worry that I will do justice to this book).
Ted arrives at his foster home with some heavy baggage. His parents have been killed in a car accident and now he faces a lot of unknowns: new foster parents, two other "brothers" in the house, and a new school. About the only comfort Ted has comes from the animal world. It is a world to which he is finely attuned. His parents owned and operated a pet store and took in any stray that was dumped into the front yard. Not only does Ted find comfort in animals, they are able to communicate to him and him to them in return. As time passes, Ted comes to trust his foster brothers and even meets a young woman who allows him to just be Ted, no pretenses.
I am not certain that even this summary does justice to this slim novel that traces Teds transition from mistrust to self-confidence. The characters are multi-faceted, even the foster parents who take in Ted and the other boys. Koertge imbues Ted and some of his friends with a sharp sense of humor, something that lightens the tension of the story of Ted's life just when it seems to become too overwhelming. Despite Ted's difficult life to date, he is a smart young man who has not quite given up on people.
I suspect this is a novel that will have wide appeal. The size will entice reluctant readers as will the fast-paced yet deliberate plotting. Dialogue is realistic; the small details tell much about the characters. Koertge is, IMHO, one of those overlooked authors. Not as well known as a Crutcher, Koertge has managed to carve out a nice chunk of YA real estate with his thoughtful and uncompromising books about characters too often on the fringe.