Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud, Not Buddy

When Bud is sent from the orphanage into yet another abusive host family, he has finally had enough. He runs away with only the clothes on his back and his battered suitcase, using a few small clues to search for the father he has never known. Bud hikes and hitches his way from Flint to Grand Rapids, meeting colorful characters and having a few adventures along the way. Bud eventually finds the man he believes to be his father, band-leader Curtis E. Calloway, who is cranky and distrustful of Bud. While Calloway does not turn out to be Bud’s real father, he finds a home with Calloway and his traveling band, and learns about his real family in the process.

Curtis’ evocation of African-American lives in Depression-era Michigan is masterful, and Bud’s narration is funny and frank. This is definitely a middle grade novel, with a ten year old main character. However, Bud’s wise-beyond-his-years narrative voice may win over some older readers, especially readers who are interested in this period of history or who enjoy historical fiction. Bud’s story and his voice are both affecting, as demonstrated by the book’s status as both a Newbery and a Coretta Scott King Award winner.

King Dork, by Frank Portman

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The Catcher in the Rye changed Tom Henderson’s life. But not in the way you think – he’s not a part of the Catcher cult, who carry the book everywhere and idolize Holden Caulfield as the perfect teenager. It was Tom’s dead father’s copy of the book that changed his life, when Tom finds a mysterious note written inside. Notes in several of Tom’s father’s old books lead him into a strange conspiracy involving his father’s death and the Vice Principal’s seedy past. At the same time that Tom is investigating the mystery of his dad’s library, he is also trying to navigate the strange world of girls, several of whom suddenly and strangely drop into his life. Add to this the daily struggle that is high school, and Tom’s best friend Sam’s constant re-vamping of their band, and Tom’s life is suddenly very complicated.

Portman’s first novel is a brilliant, cynical look at the life of a high school dork. That he leaves the plot’s complex intricacies fairly open-ended and unresolved at the finish of the novel was a perfect reflection of Tom’s high school life, where nothing ever has any deeper meaning. The Catcher in the Rye allusions add another layer to this pastiche of a teenager searching for something. Tom’s narration is caustic, thoughtful, and most of all funny. It is easy for most readers to relate at some level to a clever outsider, and Tom fills that role well. However, Portman never lets his novel fall into the typical YA cliches. Instead, he consistently challenges and surprises the reader, and also treats them to a really excellent book.