Seventh Most Important Thing

The Seventh Most Important Thing
by Shelley Pearsall
Realistic Fiction
* * * * Stars (Great!)

Arthur Owens gets in trouble with the law when he throws a brick at a trash-picking, presumably homeless man he sees around his neighborhood.  He’s sent to a juvenile delinquent facility for several weeks and at his trial it comes out that the reason he attacked the man was because he saw him wearing his recently-passed-away dad’s hat (his mom threw it out and Arthur is incensed).  While the judge is ready to lock Arthur up, he changes his mind when the Junk Man, James Hampton, offers another solution – Arthur will do community service under his supervision.  Arthur quickly learns that his primary responsibilities will be finding items on Mr. Hampton’s list (of the 7 most important things) by going through other people’s trash.  Initially he’s embarrassed since he’s effectively become a trash-picker himself, but as he learns more about what James Hampton is doing with the things he’s collecting (creating an art installation about heaven), Arthur becomes more enthusiastic and even committed to helping out.  As it turns out, Mr. Hampton is very ill, and when it becomes clear that he’s not likely to be around much longer, he makes Arthur responsible for the art they’re making and custodian for what will become of it.  Inspired by Shelley Pearsall’s encounter with the real James Hampton’s artwork, which is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC.  Characters and their motivations are unique and interesting, and the evolution of Arthur and Mr. Hampton’s relationship is realistic and moving.

Reviewed by YA Librarian

Check out James Hampton’s artwork here (Smithsonian Museum).