by James Bird
* * * * Stars (Great!)
Collin Couch was kicked out of his most recent school – for fighting. He’s unique in that he is compelled to count every letter in every word that anyone says to him, and then blurt out the number before he can respond/concentrate on anything else. This has led to all sorts of bullying because people think he’s a freak and learn that they can make him perform on demand. His dad is at his wit’s end and has just lost his job, so he decides to send Collin to live with his mother in Duluth, Minnesota, on a Native American reservation. Among the other things Collin did not know about his mother, she is Ojibwe, which makes Collin part Ojibwe, too. Collin is filled with trepidation. No one in his life has ever just accepted him or his numbers thing. But that’s exactly what his mother does. She and his grandmother and the neighbors and their children are remarkably accepting. School is another story – the same one Collin has experienced time and time again, where he has to deal with irritated teachers and bullying from other students. But now he has allies. His most enthusiastic and supportive ally is the girl next door – Orenda – who teaches him how to become stronger in both mind and body. She is fighting her own battles against some illness that she refuses to discuss except to say that she’s changing, becoming something new.
Both Collin and Orenda are changing and becoming, and their friendship gives them both the strength to overcome some of the struggles that lay ahead of them. Of course, there are some things you can’t defeat. But in the end, Collin embraces his wolf, and Orenda sails away on her new wings. This is a beautiful, complex, and magical realistic story of love and bravery and family. James Bird, the author, is also Native American. This may appeal especially to those who enjoy books like “Wonder” or “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Reviewed by YA Librarian