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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*The Wild Kid* by Harry Mazer, illustrated by Deborah Lanino - middle grades book review
The Wild Kid
by Harry Mazer, illustrated by Deborah Lanino
Grades 4-8 112 pages Aladdin July 2000 Paperback    

Sammy is 12 years old, and he knows a lot of things. He knows the difference between good words and bad words, for instance, but he doesn’t understand why it’s okay for his mother’s boyfriend to use the bad words and not okay for Sammy to use them. Using a bad word is what got Sammy into trouble, the trouble that makes him decide to run away from home.

He doesn’t have a plan, just an idea that he will ride away on his bike and not come back. Like so many of our plans, this one hits a pothole right away when Sammy’s bike is stolen. In his effort to catch the thief, Sammy ends up lost in the woods, where he literally stumbles upon a wild kid named Kevin who is surly and sneaky and just a little bit dangerous.

“So, what are you, dumb?” Kevin asks in his typical rude manner.

Sammy explains. “No. I’m Down’s.” Sometimes it was okay to tell, but sometimes people teased. “I’m young for my age. I’m a special person.”

To protect his own secret world where he hides from abuse, Kevin takes Sammy prisoner to prevent him from telling anyone about the wild boy and his living arrangements. As the days pass, Sammy learns a lot of rugged survival skills from Kevin, who is old for his age yet also special, with emotional handicaps as great as Sammy’s mental handicaps.

Gradually, though, their relationship changes as they become something like friends. Living a wild life is full of pitfalls and threats, however, and it’s no surprise when Sammy finds himself in physical danger with no hope of rescue unless Kevin reveals himself to the outside world.

The Wild Kid is not your ordinary story. It’s rare to find a book for young people that has as its protagonist a character with Down Syndrome. In gracefully simple prose, Mazer has written a straightforward tale that encompasses a world of tacit complexity that overwhelms Sammy and Kevin and all the rest of us.

While Sammy’s mental challenges are easy to discern, Kevin’s handicaps are subtle but nonetheless real. In fact, all the people around Sammy – his family, the store clerk, and of course, Kevin— are challenged in one way or another, making poor choices or assumptions that often lead the reader to believe that Sammy has a keener insight into life than any of us. The Wild Kid is one of those books that comes in from an unexpected angle and keeps the reader a little sideways all along.

Quirky, suspenseful, charming, heartwarming, infuriating, and above all entertaining, The Wild Kid is just the thing for those who appreciate truly creative tales.
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