Summer in the tiny Texas town of Antler is traditionally a time for enjoying Wylie Womack's Bahama Mama snow cones and racking up the pins at Kelly's Bowl-a-Rama, but this year it's not going well for Toby Wilson. His 13-year-old heart has been broken twice: once by his mother, who left him and his father to become a country singer in Nashville, and then again by his crush Scarlett Stalling, the town beauty who barely acknowledges Toby's existence. But when Zachary Beaver, "The World's Fattest Boy," comes to Antler as part of a traveling sideshow, Toby begins to realize that there might just be people who have it worse than him. By reaching out to Zachary in small ways--such as helping him realize his lifelong dream of being baptized--Toby is better able to put his own problems into perspective. At the baptism, Toby finally feels at peace: "Zachary smiles and I wonder if he's feeling different. Because standing here waist deep in Gossimer's Lake... I'm feeling different--light and good and maybe even holy." By summer's end, Toby's friendship with Zachary has provided him with the emotional stamina to begin dealing with his mother's decision and to gracefully accept the fact that Scarlett will forever be just beyond his reach.
With Zachary Beaver, Kimberly Willis Holt, author of the award-winning My Louisiana Sky, further explores southern-flavored small town life. Toby's quirky, yet ultimately rewarding coming of age story will serve as a gentle reminder to teens that sometimes the best way to work through your problems is by helping others with theirs. (Ages 11 to 15) --Jennifer Hubert [via]