Review Detail

Kids Fiction 5926
If You Loved Byars The Pinballs
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
When Fred's (nee Winfred) mother is arrested at her job in a pharmacy for stealing medication, Fred finds herself an hour from her home in Philadelphia. She is in Lancaster, at the house of a no-nonsense woman named Margery. Margery seems nice, and she's a good cook, and Fred knows that this is very temporary. The neighbor, Mr. Carder, has a dog that is severely neglected, and when Fred feeds him, Mr. Carder is very upset. Margery has told Fred not to bother the dog, but is understanding. When Fred goes to her new school, she has a run in with mean girl Michelle in art class, tackling the girl when she bullies another girl called Lardvark and calls Fred "trash". Once again, Margery isn't happy, and tells Fred that she will spend two days sanding rust off of metal to get some control on her anger. The girl from school, whose name is Ardelia, stops by, and the two try to feed the dog next door. While they are doing this, they hear calls for help, and it turns out that Mr. Carder has fallen. They call 911, and Mr. Carder is taken to the hospital with a broken neck. Margery grudgingly agrees to take in the dog, Toby, and they clean him up and feed him, settling him down for the night in Margery's shed, which serves as her art studio. Fred is really happy, and when Delia stops by the next day, the girls practice riding Delia's unicycle, and Fred finds out some secrets about her life. When Toby trashes the studio, trying to get into a bag of food, the girls have to tell Margery yet another thing that they have done wrong. Always making the punishment fit the crime, Margery tells Fred that she will have to finish the sculpture that was damaged. While Fred loves her comfortable room, Margery's good cooking, and having a friend and a dog, she is very worried about her mother, and dealing with a lot of anger. She and Delia fall out, and Fred has to attend a custody hearing for her mother. If she can tell the judge that her mother doesn't have any problems, she can go back to live with her, but will that be helpful in the long run?
Good Points
Fred's mother's problems with prescription drugs is a very timely topic, and Fred's foster care placement is a story we need to have represented more. Many of the middle grade novels on this topic that still get read are decades old, like Byar's The Pinballs, Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins, or Giff's Pictures of Hollis Woods. This is a good new title to add to more updated stories such as Hunt's One for the Murphy's, Castleman's Sara, Lost and Found, and Booth's Kinda Like Brothers.

The characters and their realistic, sometimes problematic actions are what make this book. Margery is a great foster parent-- not perfect, but firm and understanding. Fred is not trying to be overly difficult but often makes bad decisions as a reaction to her circumstances. The friendship with Delia is a good one, and Toby's plight is a good parallel to Fred's own. This is the sort of sad book students like, especially since it involves a child their age making very poor decisions but being supported by caring adults. I enjoyed this a lot.

Sensitive readers should know that Delia had a brother who drowned, and her parents didn't really speak to Delia for a year. Also, dog lovers need to be warned that Toby gets hit by a car but lives.
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