Author: Sis Deans
160 Pages–Ages 8-12 years
Published by: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) on May 15, 2001
Summary (from goodreads.com):
A moving story about survival, recovery, and the power of determination.
There was something else driving Ricky as he sped down Ridge Road under that cloudless blue sky. “Everybody knows a Gordon’s middle name is Thief.” The hatred and hurt rose up inside him. His stride lengthened. His arms pumped faster. He could feel the new-found fuel burning in his muscles. Today would be the day Ricky beat the bus.”The best thing your father ever did was get himself killed.”
Though he’d never admit it out loud, secretly Ricky Gordon agrees. It’s been three months since his dad’s fatal car accident, but Ricky is still haunted by memories of violent beatings and hurtful words. His mind won’t let him forget, and neither will the kids at school. And if Ricky gets into one more fight he’ll be in serious trouble. The fights always begin on the bus. That’s where the kids corner Ricky, teasing him until he’s so angry that he hits back. There has to be another way to get to school. Ricky decides to try running.
At first the three-mile run is pure torture, but soon he begins to build speed and stamina. It’s not long before people notice his dedication and his talent. And finally he accepts the challenge that has been facing him all along: he will race the bus — and win.
Despite tackling a heavy subject, this book manages not to be a complete downer. Child abuse (and domestic abuse in general) is a serious subject and one that can very easily put me in a sad mood. Just thinking of child abuse breaks my heart. Generally when I read books I try to not pick ones that will leave me in a bawling heap when I’m finished with them, but when I saw this book at a library sale for 50 cents I knew I had to risk heartbreak and give it a try. Seeing how Ricky and Matt are getting over being abused is hard, but Sis Deans manages to make this an uplifting story.
Ricky was a strong character. He sets a goal that he hopes will help him avoid conflict with the resident school bully, and amazingly enough he sticks with it even though it is incredibly tough in the beginning. Through much of the book he’s struggling with the shadow of his abusing father who has recently been killed in a car accident. He hates some characteristic he has because they were the same characteristics his father had and he hates his father. Despite all of the negative thoughts Ricky has he is able to channel his anger and frustrations through running. The goal to beat the bus by running home is not only for Ricky to prove something to himself but also to prove something to all the kids that bully him. Nobody thinks that Ricky can beat the bus, but despite the fact that nobody believes in him he persists. It’s nice to see that despite all the hardships Ricky goes through he can still find the drive to do something positive.
The language of this book confused me on what the audience should be. There were quite a few bad words in this book. Worst of all, they were used by the kids. The bad language in this book includes words like, “Shit, hell, and ass (in all its forms).” Although it’s not language that kids should probably be using, it isn’t as if most kids don’t already know all the words so it probably isn’t that harmful. The words are all used in an appropriate context as well, so it isn’t as if they are there just to be there. However, for parents who are against the use of foul language this might not be the book for your child.
The main character, Ricky, is eleven years old and in addition to using foul language, he and his younger brother also talk about their decreased father in a sort of concerning way. I know that their father was abusive, which is unforgivable, but they are especially harsh toward him even though he’s dead. I suppose their scars still feel fresh though, so even though there father is there his actions still haunt the kids. It’s pretty heartbreaking learning how the father treated his family and how the boys and their mother reacted to it.
I liked this book, but I’m not in the target audience. I honestly can’t see kids liking this book, at least when I was a kid I probably wouldn’t have liked it. I got the vibe that this book was for middle school students, but the topic is such that I’m not really sure who this could appeal to. I suppose if a kid is going through a tough time at home then they may be able to relate to Ricky, but I feel like it’s more of a topic that adults want kids to read about. I can see people assigning this book for classroom activities and discussion, but maybe not to just pick up for fun.