Busy trying to deal with his many fears and his troubled feelings for his dead mother, ten-year-old Blaze has his life changed when he meets the boisterous and irresistible Joselle.
In this stirring contemporary novel set in rural Wisconsin, Henkes ( Chrysanthemum ; The Zebra Wall ) paints a poignant picture of two lonely children whose paths cross one summer. First introduced is shy, red-headed Blaze, who has recently lost his mother to cancer. Now living with his grandmother and his artist father, the nine-year-old has trouble admitting his fears to anyone except his imaginary friends--until he meets Joselle, an outspoken, spellbinding girl who is staying on the other side of the hill with her Grandma Floy. Alternately showing the points of view of Blaze and Joselle, the book traces the meshing of two private worlds where ordinary objects--keys, spoons, stones, toy animals--carry special meaning. The fragile kinship that grows between the youngsters is threatened by an act of betrayal, yet, ultimately, deep-seated compassion and understanding help mend broken trusts. This story, offering an exceptionally sensitive and accurate portrayal of isolation, echoes feelings and themes found in Brock Cole's The Goats. Henkes, however, goes further in demonstrating the process of emotional healing--and acceptance of painful truths--that allows fear and loneliness to dissipate. His vivid characterizations and profound symbolism are sure to linger in readers' minds. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)
"In this stirring contemporary novel, Henkes paints a poignant picture of two lonely children whose paths cross one summer," according to PW's boxed review. Ages 8-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-- Joselle ``sets out to complicate the life of Blaze Werla'' the summer she stays with her grandmother. She chooses him, a neighbor whom she hasn't met, because the details of his life intrigue her. Hard-eyed at ten, Joselle refers to her mother as ``the Beautiful Vicki,'' lies compulsively, and is an irresponsible playmate. The boy, fearful and still suffering from the death of his mother several years before, is an easy target. What begins with malicious playfulness does complicate lives, as the two children, both needy, become fast friends. Emotional doors begin to open. Joselle's early hurtful words, written in stones on Blaze's hill, are also inscribed on her legs in ballpoint tattoos that eventually give her away, revealing the pivot on which the two will finally balance their friendship. Subplots provide texture. Joselle's mother, supposedly on an extended getaway with her boyfriend, turns out never to have left home; Blaze's father is courting a woman whom the boy grudgingly comes to welcome; and Blaze resolves many of his fears to begin painting a long-empty canvas. The main plot is simple and clear, giving an immediate sense that Henkes's craftsmanship is artless. Rich characterization, dramatic subplots, and striking visual images belie that impression. The author's respect for the complexity of young people's lives is apparent in this outstanding novel, which will find an enthusiastic readership among fans of Betsy Byars and Susan Shreve. --Carolyn Noah, Central Mass. Regional Lib . System, Worcester, MA