Dean Pitchford, author of "Nickel Bay Nick," boasts an impressive list of accomplishments. In addition to acting, songwriting and directing, he is an accomplished writer of children's fiction.
"Nickel Bay Nick" is a middle grade novel about a struggling boy in a struggling family living in a struggling town called Nickel Bay. Sam's only good friends are a bad influence on him. If not for the fact that his father is well-liked in town, Sam would be in a juvenile home.
Sam's mother left him and his father when Sam was young, and soon after that Sam had a heart transplant. Some of the kids call him "Frankenstein" because of that.
This year has been especially difficult for the town because an anonymous benefactor who gave out hundred dollar bills at Christmas time has disappeared. "Nickel Bay Nick" is what he was called, and the town is bereft that this year there is no sign of him. People aren't shopping and businesses, including Sam's father's bakery, are suffering.
Christmas Day is not a good one in Sam's house. In the evening, he is out causing mischief when he ends up on a neighbor's roof while evading the police. When they leave, he falls down, causing significant damage. The neighbor, an older man in a wheelchair, confronts Sam.
An arrangement is worked out that will change the lives of everyone in the town, including Sam.
The story is written with care, giving readers clues (good examples of foreshadowing) about what will happen. A teacher reading the story aloud to a class should be sure to point them out. ("Why did the author include information about the dog catcher? Do you think that might be important later?)
Character is important, as Sam finds out. He is lacking in character at the beginning of the story. He steals, destroys, lies and is totally unrepentant. He is surly and disrespectful to his father and other adults. In short, Sam is an unlikeable child.
But even at Sam's worst, the reader gets the feeling -- through Sam's first person narration -- that he's not a truly bad kid. The boy's voice throughout the story is a strong one. Sam does care for his father. The loss of his mother hurt him badly.
Readers will root for him as he makes mistakes and tries to rectify them. His character development and the changes he makes come about slowly in the story. And although the ending ties everything up perhaps a bit too neatly, it's touching and wonderful.
This story is perfect for any middle grade readers from fourth grade through seventh grade.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Putnam Juvenile, for review purposes.
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