by Ben Mikaelson
Book list Gr. 7^-10. There are really two stories here: in the first, a little boy named Petey, born in 1905 with cerebral palsy, is misdiagnosed as an idiot, and his parents reluctantly institutionalize him. Even though he cannot make himself understood easily, he becomes attached to caregivers and another inmate. He grows up with a sharp intelligence and a desire for human things: affection, touch, the feel of the outside air. He is moved to another institution as an old man (the story leaps decades between some chapters) and loses touch with all those he cared about. In the second half, a young teen named Trevor, almost against his will, befriends Petey when he saves Petey from a snowball attack by local riffraff in Bozeman, Montana. Trevor engineers Petey's reunion with an old buddy, gets him a new wheelchair, and, in a four-hanky climax, calls him Grandpa and inspires his distant and estranged parents. Although Petey is a cross between angel and saint, and none of the characters is any more than two-dimensional, there's a real strength here in the depiction of the person inside a disability and the dignity that is a divine right, even for the old or feeble. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publishers Weekly A writer admired for fast-paced adventure stories like Stranded and Sparrow Hawk Red takes on a more serious topic in this novel about the relationship between a teenager and a man mistakenly institutionalized for much of his life. Part one of the novel relates Petey's "backstory": in 1922, at the age of two, his distraught parents commit him to the state's insane asylum, unaware that their son is actually suffering from severe cerebral palsy. Petey avoids withdrawal and depression despite the horrific conditions in his new "home" and, over the course of 60 years, a string of caretakers befriends but then leaves him. The point of view in part two shifts from Petey to Trevor, an eighth-grader suffering from both lack of friends and lack of parental attention after a series of moves. Trevor finds the answer to his needs in an unlikely friendship with the 70-year-old Petey, who has moved to a nursing home. Mikaelson capably highlights the abuses and prejudices suffered by those stricken with cerebral palsy, but teeters dangerously over the line between poignancy and sentimentality. At its best, the third-person narration makes readers privy to the thoughts of the two protagonists, but more often it keeps them at bay ("As people escaped civilization to enjoy the solitude of a mountain peak, so also did many of the patients' minds escape existence and find solitude beyond the reaches of the ward"). As a result, the characters never really come to life beyond their roles as symbolsÄPetey that of the power of the human spirit, Trevor that of the tolerant, unprejudiced do-gooder. A novel that never meets the promise of its compelling premise. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Gr 7 Up-This ambitious book succeeds on a number of levels. It is based on a true, tragic situation in which Petey, born with cerebral palsy in 1920, is misdiagnosed as mentally retarded. Unable to care for him at home, his parents relinquish him to the care of the state, where he languishes in a mental institution for the next five decades. Step by institutional step, readers see how this tragedy could happen. More importantly, readers feel Petey's pain, boredom, hope, fear, and occasional joy. A handful of people grow to know and love him over the course of his long and mostly difficult life, but few are able to effect much change. In 1977, statewide reorganization and a new, correct diagnosis result in Petey being moved to a local nursing home. There, the final, triumphant chapters of his life are entwined with an eighth-grade student named Trevor, who finds his own life transformed by love and caring in ways he never could have imagined. Mikaelsen successfully conveys Petey's strangled attempts to communicate. He captures the slow passage of time, the historical landscape encompassed. He brings emotions to the surface and tears to readers' eyes as time and again Petey suffers the loss of friends he has grown to love. Yet, this book is much more than a tearjerker. Its messages-that all people deserve respect; that one person can make a difference; that changing times require new attitudes-transcend simplistic labels. Give this book to anyone who has ever shouted "retard" at another. Give it to any student who "has" to do community service. Give it to anyone who needs a good book to read.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Jr. High School, Iowa City, IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.