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Swear to Howdy
ISBN 0375825053 / 9780375825057 / 0-375-82505-3
Publisher Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Russell Cooper is lucky. When he and his family move to Lost River, a toothy-grinned boy named Joey Banks takes him under his wing. Joey makes everything into an adventure--cavorting in his favorite swimming hole, target practice with his .22, catching frogs, and playing tricks on his annoying older sister Amanda Jane. When their boyish pranks would go awry, as they often did, Joey would swear "Rusty-boy" to secrecy: "Seems like Joey and me were always making pacts. Lots of pacts, leading up to that last one. 'Rusty,' he'd say to me. 'I swear to howdy, if you tell a soul...'" Van Draanen's tales of boyhood antics told by a boy with a down-home way of talking, brings back the spirit of Huck Finn, and, as in Huckleberry Finn, darker themes lurk beneath the surface.
Joey lives in fear of his father's temper (and the switch), and he creates elaborate schemes to conceal anything that might cause his dad to blow, from replacing a dead pet goldfish to burying the body of the family cat he accidentally kills when his dad orders him to shoot some pesky squirrels. When one of Joey and Rusty's pranks turns tragic, the two boys are eaten alive by their horrible secret, kept so by a sacred blood oath of friendship. Author of the award-winning Sammy Keyes mysteries series and Flipped, Van Draanen knows how to tell a story--keeping the narrative light on its feet while dramatically portraying the idea that actions have consequences and keeping secrets can be deadly. (Ages 12 and older) --Karin Snelson [via]