I hadn’t planned to read this book, but a co-worker was insistent enough to hand it to me and when someone hands you a book, it’s a moral obligation to read it and return it as quickly as possible. Well, I think that. Some people I’ve lent books to don’t feel the same way. But I did my moral duty and finished this book easily in three days.
Doug has just moved to a new town and he’s convinced it won’t be any different from the old one. His dad will still get angry and hit him or his mom, he’ll still struggle in school, and he’ll still fight with his older brothers. But somehow, when he meets Lil Spicer on the steps of the library, things change. And finally, for the better.
I didn’t expect to like this book. I expected to fly through it because it’s written for a younger audience and would likely be almost light while it talked about dark topics (I’m looking at you, 13 Reasons Why). Instead, Schmidt wrote about a real boy with real problems who has to suffer through them and find his own internal strength while not being afraid to lean on those around him. What a complicated character for a young book. I was really impressed.
When I finished, my co-worker asked how I liked it and I told her it was perfect because, “I wanted to kill half the characters and hug the other half.” Truthfully, that’s how I feel about the people I meet in real life. Some of them are awesome, incredible people and some of them shouldn’t share my air. I loved how real the characters seemed and so many of them were really dynamic. Doug himself was really dynamic, but his father and brothers changed a lot as well. While I hope there’s no one like Mr. Swieteck out there, I could believe that there is and that’s a credit to Schmidt’s writing.
Doug himself was my favorite character. I understood why he was so angry at first and I loved that he wanted to be different from his dad and brothers by being a good kid but kept resorting to what he had been taught. He was easy to sympathize with even though I’ve never had a similar life situation. And he was so dynamic! He changed in all the ways you want a main character to grow and it was so great to watch it. Add on that the great voice that Schmidt gave him and you’ve got a very lovable 8th grader. I adored him.
I related most to Lil because she was a book person. There wasn’t much else about her that I could sympathize with, but knowing this about her early on in the story made me like her instantly. I guess that’s a good way to get readers to like someone.
I loved the Audubon aspect of the story. I think it was a really cool thing to bring into the story and it made the story very visual for me. I liked looking back at the pictures at the beginning of the chapters to see what the birds looked like. I loved hearing about Doug’s struggles to paint and draw them. His mission to bring them all back to the library was heartbreakingly beautiful for me and I think was a great thread to run through the book.
Major spoilers in this next paragraph so skip it if you don’t want to know. Lil’s illness at the end was so devastating to me. So many bad things were happening around Doug that it was hard to see him deal with it. And Lil had been such a positive character that it was really tough to see her weakened. That part of the book reminded me off the story in The Things They Carried when O’Brien reflects on the girl he knew as a child who died from cancer. It’s always so sad to see a child suffer and Lil Spicer broke my heart.
Doug’s story taught us that everyone can change and everything can get better. Doug was so negative at the beginning of the book and believed that everything would end badly for him. Even when something went well, he would sabotage it so that things would go badly. But slowly, he let things go well and they started to get better and his attitude even changed. When his attitude changed, he could surround himself with more positive people and make good things happen. His positivity even extended to his brothers and his father, the three people who brought him down so far at the beginning.
Writer’s Takeaway: Doug’s voice was what pulled me through this book so quickly. His comments to the reader (“Can you believe that? I am not lying.”) made me smile as I was reading and I think would make this book more relatable to young readers. I love a book with a strong voice.
What a refreshing book! I loved it and flew through it. A full Five out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.