What a good book this is! It may be geared to a middle grade audience (with a little coming-of-age mixed in), but I sat up late to finish it, not wanting to put it down. And yes, it’s kind of like a movie on The Lifetime Channel, but who can resist those?!
Twelve-year-old Foster lives with his widowed mom Linda on Fourmile Farm in Alabama, some three hours south of Montgomery. His dad died the year before in a traumatic accident, and his mom has started seeing a man – Dax – who raises the hackles of both Foster and his dog Joe.
Foster becomes increasingly alienated, but that all changes when Gary Conway, a former Iraqi Special Forces soldier, hikes by their farm and offers to stay on a while to help fix it up. Foster bonds with Gary and his dog Kabo, and knows that Gary (unlike Dax) would never hurt him. At the same time, however, he picks up on an unease in Gary, “like a coiled spring,” that frightens him.
Dax doesn’t like having a potential rival for Linda like Gary on the property, and tries to force Linda to make a choice. The results change all of them forever.
Discussion: The set-up in the first chapter is excellent: there is tension, mystery, a hidden tragedy, and a loving mother and son struggling to make it on their own. It pulls you right in and doesn’t stop there. And what a pleasure to find that the 12-year-old narrator is not omniscient: he doesn’t always “get” what is happening among the very authentically drawn adults, nor for that matter, do we readers, since we only know what we glean from Foster’s perspective. I love that!
As for the ending, it is so fabulously realistic that, although I always hope for a fairy-tale finish, I can’t help but admire the author and love the book for the last chapter, and especially, the last paragraph.
Note: Fans of the Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls will appreciate the echoes of that fable in Foster’s efforts to come to terms with his own monster after the death of his dad.
Evaluation: Although this is a middle grade book, it will appeal to all ages. If you see this one, I recommend not passing it up!
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2012