Readers are introduced to a cruel boy who sustains brain trauma and loses his memory; a bitter girl who’s missing her twin brother after he was run out of town; and a sassy old veteran with a misplaced Medal of Honor. Chase Ambrose isn’t far into recovery when he realizes his former self was at the center of a lot of things he can’t remember, and frankly, isn’t sure he wants to know. But facing who and what he used to be may be the only way to rebuild his life into something his new self can be proud of.
The book alternates between a wide range of first-person present-tense POVs. Readers are given the distinct perspective of nearly every middle school character mentioned in the story at some point (the adult characters are excluded, but this feels in keeping with the needs of the target audience.) On the upside, this gave lots of breathing room between less interesting viewpoints along with a wider range of empathy potential. (i.e. Brandan Espinoza is a huge highlight and welcome bit of comedy relief.) On the downside, some characters seemed underrepresented, and less multi-dimensional. (i.e. Kimberly Tooley comes off as little more than a shallow, lovesick airhead.)
It was nice to see that losing his personal memories didn’t completely alter everything about Chase. He quickly discovers he’s retained his knowledge of football, and an innate love for its physical and competitive aspects. He may not remember being a star player, but he understands why his former self enjoyed the game.
My biggest complaint would have to be concerning Chase’s father. From the very beginning, it’s easy to see how the man’s narrow-minded selfishness must have a lot to do with why Chase was such a conscience-free terror before his head injury. He is volatile, entitled, pompous, and has no regard for even his own son’s health. But while his noxious behavior is consistent nearly until the end, there’s curiously little reflection on Chase’s part over how much his dad’s dysfunction must have influenced his former self. And close to the conclusion of the story, there’s a sudden attempt to salvage his father into something redeemable—which felt entirely too forced. I sincerely wish there’d been more organic development in that regard.
Ultimately though, this reader sees plenty of value in this tale of bullying, understanding, loyalty, and redemption. And with no objectionable words or material, I’d be comfortable recommending it for kids as young as 9.