Sometimes I stray from my core mission of reviewing middle grade novels. This novel is almost a middle-grade novel. After all, its narrator is twelve, perfect for middle grade. But the real protagonist is thirteen or fourteen, a boy who’s already lived enough grief–and joy–for a lifetime. So I guess it’s young adult.

Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery-Award-winning Christian author, is one of my favorite middle-grade writers. In this contemporary tale set on a small farm in Maine, a family of three sets out to help a troubled kid. That kid is Joseph, who has an abusive father. Joseph’s a prickly individual, surly or silent. Under the influence of a drug someone gave him, he once tried to kill a teacher. The family, including 12-year-old Jack, accepts him anyway.

But something really sets Joseph apart from other troubled kids: he is himself a father.

He’s never seen his infant daughter. And he’s willing to risk everything to find her.

This is his heart-wrenching story. I enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it. I want to particularly point out the “voice” of Jack the narrator, which is so spare as to be Hemingway-esque. He’s doing things that show his feelings, rather than immersing the reader in talking about them. This is unusual for a first-person tale these days.

I watched a video interview of the author, a professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, who said the story is based on a real family on a farm in Maine. This family takes in troubled kids–and presumably asks them to milk a cow.

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@Barrie Summy