And Then, Boom!

And Then, Boom!
Age Range
Release Date
May 07, 2024
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A gripping new novel in verse by the author of the Printz Honor-winning Starfish, featuring a poverty-stricken boy who bravely rides out all the storms life keeps throwing at him

Joe Oak is used to living on unsteady ground. His mom can’t be depended on as she never stays around long once she gets “the itch,” and now he and his beloved grandmother find themselves without a home. Fortunately, Joe has an outlet in his journals and drawings and takes comfort from the lessons of comic books—superheroes have a lot of “and then, boom” moments, where everything threatens to go bust but somehow they land on their feet. And that seems to happen a lot to Joe too, as in this crisis his friend Nick helps them find a home in his trailer park. But things fall apart again when Joe is suddenly left to fend for himself. He doesn’t tell anyone he’s on his own, as he fears foster care and has hope his mom will come back. But time is running out—bills are piling up, the electricity’s been shut off, and the school year’s about to end, meaning no more free meals. The struggle to feed himself gets intense, and Joe finds himself dumpster diving for meals. He’s never felt so alone—until an emaciated little dog and her two tiny pups cross his path. And fate has even more in store for Joe, because an actual tornado is about to hit home—and just when it seems all is lost, his life turns in a direction that he never could have predicted.

Editor review

1 review
Being resilient in the face of disaster
Overall rating
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Fipps' Starfish has a huge following, and this will be another title that will be popular. There is something about seeing children faced with overwhelming challenges and having to care for themselves that makes for an intriguing read. Joe's situation is realistically portrayed, and the details of how he and his grandmother make do are harrowing and yet hopeful. His friends stick with him, and it's good to see that he has people like Uncle Frankie and Mrs. Swan to help as much as they can.

This is a modern novel in verse, and this format always leaves me wanting a little more information about a variety of things. More details about Joe's friendship with Hakeem and Nick or the dogs would have been something that we might have seen more fleshed out in a prose format.

This is a good choice for readers who Rudd's How to Stay Invisible, Ogle's Free Lunch, Walter's The King of Jam Sandwiches, Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus, and Supplee's Sweetness All Around.
Good Points
**Spoiler alert. Don't read if you want to be surprised by the plot developments.**

Joe Oak and his grandmother as doing the best they can since his mother ran off. They lost their house when the mother jumped bail, and have spent time living in their GMC Pacer and washing up in store washrooms while the grandmother cleans houses to try to make ends meet. Joe is lucky that he has a supportive 6th grade teacher at school, Mrs. Swan, who keeps snacks available to students and even has the school change the lunch system so that kids on free and reduced lunch don't have to annouce it to everyone. Joe has been friends with Nick and Hakeem for a long time, but doesn't want them to know he has been living in a car. When Nick finds out (and he had noticed that Joe was falling asleep in class and seemed rumpled), he lets Joe know about a unit available to rent in the mobile home park where he lives. Nick's mother struggled with depression, and Nick has been in foster care a couple of times, so he understands that sometimes life is hard. Joe and his grandmother are very happy with their new accomodations, and revel in taking showers and getting their clothes clean. The owner of Castle Mobile Home Park, Frank King, offers the two free furniture, and asks them to call him Uncle Frankie and to let him know if there is anything they need. Joe's grandmother even put in a garden. When Joe's grandmother suddenly dies of a stomach aneurysm, his mother comes back to live with him, but it is not long before she takes off again. For a while, he has enough food, and gets some new clothes from Ms. Swan's Magic Closet, but taking care of himself becomes increasingly difficult since he finds three abandoned dogs and is trying to feed them as well. He eventually tells Nick and Hakeem, who help him raise some money by selling items at the community rummage sale, but this doesn't last long. When summer comes, Hakeem gives him some food leftover from a cooking class, but this is all lost when the electricity is cut. Joe eats the food from the garden, and dumpster dives at a local restaurant until the dumpster is locked. Nick has asked Joe to look after his mother, and when Joe notices she hasn't left the house is a long time, he seeks help from a neighbor. Uncle Frankie notices that Joe's mother is never around, but doesn't press him for details. When a tornado comes perilously close to Joe's home, he manages to ride out the storm with the dogs by tethering himself to a tree, but eventually is thrown through the air, luckily landing on a pile of soft things. He tells the people who rescue him that his mother has left and CPS needs to be notified. He's kept in the hospital for a while to get treatment for his infected tooth, storm injuries, and malnutrition, and is placed into foster care with a farming family who is willing to take the three dogs as well. While Joe misses his grandmother, and even his mother, he is glad to be in a stable home setting where his physical and psychological needs can be met. He even puts together a mini food pantry to help other children who are struggling.
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