From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up–Wyatt Reaves opens his soul to an unnamed stranger on a bus taking him away from his bleak past and negligent parents, Fever and Ma. When he was 12, he burned down his family home. For the next five years, he is taken on a circuitous road trip by Uncle Spade, Fever's brother, an unscrupulous, hard-drinking traveling salesman with girlfriends in several locales. Stopping in Arkansas, Wyatt makes friends with Clark, a small, bespectacled boy. Together they invent a game of cruelty to polliwogs, but soon the beat-up Chevy is back on the road heading wherever Spade's shady deals take them. Wyatt's height and developing musculature belie the fearful, lost child inside, who is unable to cry. His thwarted emotions coalesce into an intense rage that is often violent and out of control. Spade eagerly becomes Wyatt's manager, coaching him, sending him on long beer runs, and collecting the cold cash flowing from Wyatt's dominance as a fist-fighter. They stop to visit one of Spade's girlfriends, whose kindness touches Wyatt, but things go badly when Spade batters her on her front lawn, and Wyatt begins to question his own sanity when he feels a compulsion to go and kill his one friend, Clark. He demands to return to Fever and Ma, a move that only confirms the harm and hurt of a family culture laced with vulgarity, mockery, and insults. Characterizations are strong in this searing, yet affirming first novel of a young man determined to define himself and make a new life.–Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Ever since he turned 12-and-a-half, Wyatt has been on the road with his cool uncle Spade, who lives by his wits and has a different “ladyfriend” in every new town they visit. For six years his uncle’s Chevy “was my house,” Wyatt tells the reader, and “all his ladyfriends was my mom.” It’s Spade’s idea that Wyatt, who is unusually tall and strong, should start bare-knuckle fighting for money, and the boy, heartbreakingly eager to please, complies, winning fight after fight . . . until the last one. Oaks’ first novel is a breathtaking debut with an unforgettable protagonist, a boy who may claim he hates the word love but is nonetheless desperately in search of it and of himself. The voice Oaks has created for Wyatt to tell his painful and poignant story is a wonderful combination of the unlettered and the eloquent. One example, his description of Spade: “I looked at him real good: his skin like a greasy diner, his black eyes like spiders in holes, his body like a starved bird.” Will Wyatt ever find himself? Readers who meet him will care desperately about the answer. Grades 8-12. --Michael Cart