Everyone thinks that Clark is too old to still play with stuffed animals. He's almost eleven! Bullies target him at school while his mother tries increasingly un-subtle ways to wean him off his toys and introduce more "normal" interests. But Clark can't shake the feeling that his stuffed friends are important, even necessary. Sometimes they move around in the night, and sometimes in the morning they look a little worse for wear, as if they've engaged in battle. And it turns out . . . he's right.
Clark's dad is under attack by a nefarious, shadowy monster called a King Derker, and only Clark's stuffies are able to fight him off. The problem is, no one believes Clark, and when his mom attempts to rid the house of stuffed animals to try to get him to grow up, she's actually putting Clark's dad and the entire household in mortal peril. Now it's up to Clark's grandma-made sock animal, Foon, to save the day. Luckily, being handmade by a loved one gives Foon extra battle points, but he's still a brand-new stuffy. Does he have what it takes to rid Clark's house of all its monsters?
Told through both Clark's and Foon's points of view, Stuffed confirms every kid's dream: that stuffed animals do have a life and a purpose, and that sometimes the most unconventional friendships are also the most valuable.
Clark's dad receives a box of things from his childhood, which begins his mood spiral into a depression (not specifically defined as such but hinted at strongly). At the same time, Clark feels like he can see a cloudy shape around his father which may be a monster. This is later confirmed by a new friend, who explains the powers of Stuffies and how they can be scored to build up a real army.
Clark becomes more entrenched in this idea and how stuffed animals can help protect his father. The overall story is split every so often with scenes from the perspective of Foon, a stuffed animal that we really meet later. The book also contains some how-to instructions for making simple stuffies in places.
What I loved: This book is really innovative in how it empowers children to be who they are (even if they are a boy who is growing up and loving stuffed animals). The story is quite clever too, in terms of what stuffed animals do and how they fight monsters.
What left me wanting more: I felt like this book could have been something much bigger and deeper than it was. Essentially, the father has depression, but instead of therapy and help, we have stuffed animals fighting the monster that is getting him down. The power of the book to address mental illness is really lessened. There are also some tidbits about his grandmother having cancer, which also could have deepened the story, but they also felt a bit glossed over. This book straddled the line between more serious and more fun, and I would have liked it more if it was one or the other, particularly for the middle grade audience. I also wish his mother had been more supportive and appreciated Clark for being himself. However, we do get the more supportive figures from other teens.
Final verdict: This book is overall cute fun giving stuffed animals a new purpose. While it could have been a much deeper story, it manages to stay pretty light and focus on stuffed animals vs. monster style plots. I would recommend for children who love stuffed animals and fantasy.