Friday, December 23, 2011

A Fresh Start

In Bluefish by Pat Schmatz, Travis has a complicated relationship with his grandfather, his sole guardian. He’s not excited about the fact that they had to move away from the creek where Travis found some peace of mind, and he misses his hound, Rosco. But it is a chance to start fresh. And to leave behind the nickname his peers had given him: “bluefish.”

The book opens with a good Samaritan act. Travis sees a stray shoe come flying past him while he’s at his locker. Shortly thereafter, a kid ambles by who’s missing one. Travis returns the shoe to the kid without a word and continues on his way. This earns him the respect of Bradley (the one-shoed kid) and also Velveeta, a silent witness. A friendship tenuously takes hold among the three. It’s sealed by a teacher, Mr. McQueen, with a knack for matching the right kid with the right book, and for offering the right comment at the right time. Travis has never known an adult like that, and Velveeta is sorely missing the one adult who had served that role in her life.

With the aid of this friendship and adult guide, both Travis and Velveeta find the courage to confide in one another. There’s a hint of attraction between them, but Schmatz keeps their connection platonic, exploring the full extent of what it means to be a true friend and confidante. Through their friendship, each transforms his and her self-image, and they begin to see in themselves the sense of possibility that they bring out in one another. Schmatz packs an emotional wallop in this brief novel.

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