Tom Bender is enjoying a normal day in seventh grade (daydreaming about cars and how many different ways he can save the cutest girl in class if some unforseen disaster occurs..you know, like you do) when the teacher suddenly announces that a new girl will be joining the class. The teacher seems nervous and pale and it is soon clear why. Jessica was horrifically disfigured in a fire and is attending their school so that she can receive treatment for her condition at a nearby hospital. Since they are seated alphabetically, Jessica ends up sitting right next to him and Tom's life feels like it will never be the same. He has to make some tough decisions about what is most important to him and where his friends rank in the grand scheme of things.
So, I'll get the negative stuff out of the way up front. This is not new territory. There have been a plethera of books circling the issue of how kids treat kids who look different. Also, I don't think I have ever seen a seventh grade boy as sensitive and capable of maturity as Tom. I wish there were more of them.
Negative stuff aside, I loved this little book! The narrator is a male but I think the majority of boys Tom's age might not have as easy a time with the emotional aspects of the story as the girls. What I thought was the best part of this story was seeing an age group that normally suffers from an excess of invulnerability have to confront the specter of death, injury, mortality..that sort of thing. I guess I really identified with it since I had to confront the same thing at that age and even I noticed a marked difference between my attitude and the attitudes of my more oblivious friends about many things.
Amazon has this ranked for grades 5-7 but sensitive kids may be frightened by Tom's imagings of and the eventual revealment of what happened to Jessica. Even I found it more than a bit disturbing. I listened to this in the car and the narrator was great!