Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!
Let's start with a quick rundown of the various emotions I felt while reading this middle grade novel: I laughed, cried, was wide-eyed with anxiousness, furrowed with anger, and -- you guessed it -- cried one more time at the end. This is only the second novel I've read by Beth Vrabel (you can read my review for the first here) but she has absolutely earned her spot as one of my absolute favorite middle grade authors for her realistic portrayals of modern kids and the challenges they face.
Bringing Me Back follows Noah, a boy who is entering his seventh grade year with a weighty cloud of shame hanging over him. At the end of the prior football season, Noah's mother was arrested for drunk driving. Noah is living with his mother's boyfriend, Jeff, while she serves her six-month sentence in prison. Because of his mother's arrest, the football team was shut down, transforming Noah from the MVP quarterback to a social pariah. He's just trying to survive the daily trials of middle school when one day, he spots a bear cub at the edge of the woods. The cub has a bucket stuck on her head, and is growing thinner by the day. Noah is determined to help her -- if he can't fix the mistakes in his own life, he wants to do one good thing to fix this mistake.
I will be totally honest - I avoided this book for weeks because of the premise. I have a really hard time reading about any type of animal suffering and it typically brings out my biggest HSP reactions. When I finally talked myself into it, I read this book in one sitting. It was compelling, heartbreaking, and so real. I'm not much of a realistic fiction fan when it comes to middle grade -- I prefer the quirky, adventurous fiction -- so I don't think I've ever read a book with a character like Noah. He's in a hard season of life, with puberty being the least of his problems. As a teacher who formerly worked in a low-income district, I've worked with many children who had similar life experiences to Noah, with parents serving time and home lives that were far from ideal. What I loved about this story was that it didn't shy away from the hard stuff, but it didn't wallow in it either. There's humor, a sweet crush, and a caring adult who provides a safe space for Noah. All of these things will (I think) help young readers know that even in the midst of really hard seasons, there is value in friendship and community.
Bonus points to Beth for writing another male protagonist middle grade that I can easily recommend to boys in 5th-8th grade. I also like in this that Noah falls for a girl who is 100% invested in her academics and doesn't care what others think of her, so I think it will appeal to strong middle grade girls as well.
Bottom-Line Rating: 5/5
EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL!
THE RECKLESS CLUB by Beth Vrabel
COMING FALL 2018 FROM RUNNING PRESS BOOKS!
Five kids are forced to spend a day volunteering in an assisted living facility after committing separate pranks on the last day of eighth grade. Think a middle-grade The Breakfast Club set in an old-age home. All the action takes place in the course of one day, as the five kids reveal what they've done, why they did it, and what they're going to do now.
I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this -- I love the vibrant blue cover and the homage to a classic in troublemaking and breaking social boundaries.
If you recognize Beth's name but can't place it, you may be remembering how I gushed over Caleb and Kit after reading it last summer. We chose Caleb and Kit as our DBC pick for February as we read about chronic illness and members have been loving it. Because these were both 5-star reads for me, I'm partnering with Beth to giveaway two copies of Bringing Me Back and one copy of Caleb and Kit to TST readers! Just hop on over to my Instagram @topshelftext to read the rules and enter the giveaway.