I am reading five books at the moment. Five books that are just fine, but haven't quite done it for me. And so when I got home last night, I went to The Pile and took from it a book that I have wanted to read ever since I saw it reviewed at Finding Wonderland--Seeing Red, by Anne Louise Macdonald (Kids Can Press, 2009, 220pp, upper middle grade).
And it turned out to be just what I wanted, the sort of book that makes you forget you are reading. The sort of book that deafens you to the shrieks/complaints/polite requests of spouse, children, and cat. The sort of book that, when you close it, makes you sigh both for the pleasure of having read it, and the sadness that you won't get to enjoy it for the first time ever again.
9th-grader Frankie Uccello is normal. Soul-crushingly un-outstanding. He doesn't excel at anything--even skateboarding, which he loves, is something he has had to work hard at to be decent. There is one thing, though, that sets him apart--his dreams. Vivid, colored dreams that come true.
The book begins one stormy night, when Frankie dreams of flying on black wings. A vicious wind comes up and throws him toward the ground.
"Then I saw the riding ring. Soft sand. Yes! At the last second I saw the horse- a black horse with a rider dressed all in red.
"Look out!" I screamed. The black hose bolted sideways. The red rider fell. Down. Down. Head first. Thud. I screamed again- an empty, useless dream scream." (page 6).
When he wakes, his first thought is that his friend Tim, who rides a black horse, is in terrible danger. The frantic dash to school (skateboarding through storm debris, running late) is more frantic than usual. But when Tim comments that he won't be riding in that weekend's horse show after all, Frankie wonders if the dream means something else entirely.
The storm brought more than fallen branches. A grey lump of what looked like garbage, lying on the pavement, turns out to be a storm tossed bird, a petrel. All the other birds he's tried to save have died, but this one might be different--after all, he had just dreamt of flying. Because of the bird, he is thrown into the life of Weird Maura-Lee, whom he has avoided like the plague all his life since they were small children.
"She never giggled. She was quiet--and alone--breaking the biggest rule of all: "Never be seen standing alone." Maura-Lee was always by herself--in the schoolyard or cafeteria. She was Weird Maura-Lee. And kids said she could read minds." (page 41)
But Maura-Lee can get the petrel the fish it needs to stay alive.
Then Frankie is forced by his father to help out a therapeutic riding clinic, despite his terror of horses. And there he finds Maura-Lee, training her own horse to read her mind, and seemingly able to read Frankie like a book.
And his dream still hangs over his head, waiting...
This is a great story about friendship, with twang (zest, forward momentum, interest) provided by the understated supernatural gifts of two main characters. It reminds me a bit of The Wednesday Wars, in that it has the same sweetness of plot--a sensitive boy growing up in his way of understanding the people around him.
As well as recommending this in general to any introspective older middle grade reader, I'd also recommend it those looking for books with charming and happily married parents (rare), horses, friendships between boys and girls that are just friendships, and poignant bird sub-plots (I myself am a sucker for poignant bird sub-plots).