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Holling Hoodhood finds himself spending unwanted one-on-one time with his nemisis teacher, Mrs. Baker, all because he's the only Protestant in a predominantly Jewish and Catholic town. Set in 1967, Holling and Mrs. Baker's relationship evolves over the course of a school year as they study Shakespeare together, chase vicious rats together, visit Yankee stadium together, and provide that little bit of encouragement to one another when life shows its cruelty.

This is a beautiful story of how one teacher made a difference; however, I tend to agree with other reviews that don't think middle school students would like it. To connect to this novel, the reader must connect with history - Vietnam, hippies, racism, civil rights, and gender roles. If students don't know/understand the historical context of this novel, a lot of the themes will be lost.   flag

 
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Morbidly fascinating. Those two words encompass this novel.

Joey is an average sixteen-year-old kid who lives in Chicago with his single-mom. When she meets an untimely death, he gets shipped off to a dad he's never met and a small town that isn't welcoming to outsiders. It doesn't take him long to realize that there is something "off" about Harnett, his dad: disappearing for days at a time, only "working" at night, and the constant smell of rotting corpses. Harnett is a grave robber.

Not only does Joey have to deal with the shock of the loss of his mother and a dad who robs dead bodies, but he also becomes the focus of ridicule and cruelty from teachers and students at his new high school. He is subjected to physical and emotional abuse as well as isolation until Foley - a fellow outcast - reaches out to him. Armed with a new friend, Joey feels like things are looking up until an incident occurs that throws him over the edge. He decides that he's going to join the family business.

Begrudgingly, Harnett tutors Joey about the history and purpose of Diggers as well as the unwritten code that they live by: be invisible. Violation of this code results in death. Unfortunately, one of the Diggers has gone rogue and decides it's time to expose the rest of the pack. He's slowly picking off each Digger until he reaches the most powerful, Harnett.

This book has beautiful descriptions that make the reader feel as though she is watching each scene unfold. Daniel Kraus did an excellent job of weaving Joey's frustrations at school with his frustrations with his father. Although the plot moves very slowly, the history and painstaking detail found within this novel makes it worth the patience to read it. I'm still not sure what to think about it because it is different from anything that I have ever read. I can't say that it's a bullying book - even though bullying is a huge issue; I can't say it's a suspense thriller - even though there is a morbid twist; I can't say that it's a book about rite-of-passage - even though Joey learns some valuable lessons. Honestly, you just need to read it for yourself to decide.