It's 1941, and Junior is not having a good year. His momma wants him to stay in school, but his Pop thinks he should quit. To make matters worse, his ninth grade teacher is Miss Hinkle, a neighbor and a hard-nosed educator who forces Junior to write with his right hand rather than his left so his penmanship will be perfect.
But Miss Hinkle does own a '35 Plymouth that Junior would love to get his hands greasy working on it. Because all Junior really wants to do is follow in his Pop's footsteps and tinker with cars and other broken things that need a good mechanic to fix them. But no matter how much he helps his father, no matter how much he can prove what he knows, his father will simply not let Junior do much more than hand him his tools. And sometimes Junior just gets so mad at his Pop.
To top it all off, his Pop's mean, ornery father is living with the family now, sharing Junior's room with him and he just seems to delight in needling Junior. And granddaddy, who thinks President Roosevelt is a coward for keeping the country out of the war, just can't wait for the United States to enter it.
But when Pop is found dead by the side of the road on morning after what everyone presumes is a night of drinking and poker, Junior is suddenly at a loss about his life. Missing his Pop terribly, Junior just wants to find out what happened that night and the only way he can do that is by making friends with the boy in his class who is the schoolyard bully. And making friends with Dudley Walker is not an easy task, but doable.
Junior is basically a good kid, however, between missing his Pop, always being annoyed at his granddaddy, and not liking school very much, Dudley Walker's suggestion that they enlist together seems like a good idea. But when enlisting doesn't work out, it just seems that Junior goes on a downward spiral of bad decisions, like borrowing/stealing Miss Hinkle's car after Dudley agrees to help him find out what happened the night his Pop died, and, even though Junior knows stealing the car is wrong, he does it anyway.
Junior is grappling with a lot of changes since his father died, but as he struggles to face his challenges, he also discovers some family secrets that help him understand his Pop better. And maybe, just maybe with the help of neighbors who are willing to help him, Junior can come to terms with all that has happened and find his aim in life.
Like Ann Fay in Blue, Junior is a wonderful, full-bodied character. He's full of the kinds of contradictions, disorientations, and mixed emotions of adolescence as he searches for identity, his place in the world, independence, and respect. And a little peer pressure from Dudley doesn't help matters. Neither does dealing with a grandfather who puts him down all the time or having to come to terms with his father's alcoholism. These are hard topics for a middle grade novel, but Hostetter has managed to bring them together in this coming of age story without overburdening the reader, letting everything unfold naturally and with some humor, allowing Junior tell his own story and keeping the authorial voice to a real minimum.
The area around Hickory, NC is familiar to Hostetter and when she takes the reader there, it doesn't take long to feel like you know it, too. It's the kind of place where families have lived for generations, and everyone knows everyone else. And when Junior goes into the woods to seek comfort and solace, you can almost hear the trees rustling in the wind, smell the earth underfoot, and taste the catfish that can be caught in the river. It is, in short, an ideal setting for a 14 year-old boy to do some hard growing up.
If you haven't read Blue, or its sequel Comfort, Aim is a great place to begin this well-written historical fiction trilogy. If you have read either of the other two books, no problem, there are only occasion visits from Ann Fay in Aim. If anything, you will understand Ann Fay's relationship with her father even better, but it always remains Junior's story. Either way, I can honestly and highly recommend this book and Blue, and now that I have a copy of Comfort, I can't wait to read it, as well.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Calkins Creek, at the request of the author
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans