Book Review by Debbie Winkler
Author: A. C. E. Bauer
Publisher: Yearling (March 2009)
ISBN: 0375839224, EAN: 9780375839221
Page Count: 288 pages
Target Age Group: children ages 9 – 12
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Eleven-year-old Augie Boretski dreams of escaping his rundown neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey. For one glorious afternoon, he accomplishes this dream when he saves his coins for a trip to downtown Philadelphia. He discovers an unusual bookstore with a magical book of fairy tales there and accidentally steals it. Augie forgets about the book for a while, consumed with his problems at school where he is beat up daily by three big bullies. His single mother tries hard to encourage him to make friends and develop his talents, but Augie finds it easier to stay at home and hide from the neighborhood around him. When his mother signs him up for the Big Brother program, Augie is horrified. He thinks that the program is just for little kids and he can only imagine what the bullies at school will do to him when they find out that his Big Brother is a big, white, gay man. Throughout all of Augie’s troubles, he continues reading the magical book he discovered, a book whose pages change every time he reads it, and finds that fairy tales have practical application to his real life. Before he knows quite what is happening, Augie finds himself auditioning for the school choir, figuring out how to deal with bullies at school, and ultimately bringing the neighborhood together to keep the school as part of the community.
I picked up this book on a whim as it was near Joan Bauer’s books and am glad that I found it! This was a charming little story with some great characters that I really enjoyed getting to know. Augie is a scrawny, bespeckled white boy in a rundown black neighborhood who has learned the hard way that it is easiest to run away from his problems rather than to confront them and try to find a solution. Augie doesn’t always make the best decisions and he hurts quite a few people who are trying to help him along the way, but he eventually makes the right choices and readers will find themselves rooting him on, like I did. What I loved about this book is that Augie came to discover that he was a lot tougher inside than he thought and that, even though he is just one child in the neighborhood, he can make a difference. I think that children will find something to identify with Augie and will enjoy reading about his adventures. While this book is written in third person, the perspective is exclusively Augie’s and so the rest of the characters are a big sketchy. I actually liked this as I felt like I was seeing all of the adults in Augie’s life – his teachers, his new Big Brother, his mother, his elderly neighbor, the mean bullies – as a child would.
The author has a lovely writing style that was compulsively readable. I sat down to read just a few chapters and found myself staying up late to finish it and find out what was going to happen! I was hoping that Augie would develop into the character that I knew he could become and I was not disappointed! I especially was worried when Augie found out that his new Big Brother, Walter, was gay. Augie feared that he would get in even more trouble with the boys at school if they found out this detail and thought it would be easier to sever their relationship altogether rather than open himself up to the potential pain to come. I was thrilled to see Augie work through this issue on his own, even though he really hurt Walter’s feelings before he figured out that doing what is right isn’t always easy. Also, Augie eventually confesses his theft to his mother and she takes him to the store so that he can explain what he did to the owner. This is a valuable lesson to learn because Augie got away with the book and no one ever would have known – no one but Augie – and it was important for me to see that there were repercussions.
In between the chapters on Augie’s life, there are two fairy tales that are related in several chapters. One of them is “Donkey Skin” and the other is “The Wooden Box.” I loved that the author updated these fairy tales with details to make them fit into Augie’s story. I also appreciated the fact that the author included the entire fairy tale in this book so that readers can enjoy them along with Augie. Bauer took these fairy tales and gave them a twist. It is not until the end that readers realize that the entire book they are reading is a brand new fairy tale and Augie is the hero. I thought this was clever and fun as the bookstore where Augie took the book is the end of one fairy tale, but the beginning of Augie’s. There are little details scattered throughout the bookstore that clue Augie into the fact that the big, green fairy tale book is something special. I hope that young readers will realize that reading books will open up a whole new world in their minds and that they are creating their very own fairy tales with every day that they live.
This book was an unexpected treasure. I really had a wonderful time reading it and would have loved to read more about Augie! I always hate getting to the end of books like these and would love to see more about Augie as he grows older and realizes that he has the power to change life around him, regardless of his size. While I did not like some of the choices that Augie made or wished that the book would go in a different direction than it did, there is a lot to enjoy in this book – for both young readers and older readers! If you see this book in your local library, I hope you take the time to pick it up and check it out.
Augie lives in a pretty rough neighborhood with drug dealers and a lot of crime. He gets beat up pretty badly by bullies, has his money stolen at lunchtime, and lives his life in fear at school. There are also some scenes that deal with racial discrimination, prejudice against homosexuals, and broken marriages. Recommended for ages 8 and up.