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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Middle Grade Readers

ZERO TO HERO…GHOST BUDDY #1 By Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

By Henry Winkler and Lin OliverZero to Hero is the 1st in a new series by Henry Winkler, the author of the Hank Zipzer series.  There are two main characters:  (1) 11-year-old Billy Broccoli who has just moved to a new home in a different school district where he will be attending a new middle school–the one at which his newly re-married mother is principal; and (2) Hoover Porterhouse, a 14-year-old ghost who died 99 years ago and lives in the room Billy has inherited in the new house.

The initial friction between the two boys is mild, based originally on the ghost/living human difference as opposed to differing personalities.  Billy is quieter, more likely to allow others to push him around without saying anything.  Hoover is the opposite: brash, confident and unlikely to let any derogatory comment or behavior go by without confronting the person behind it.

I thought the story moved in fits and starts.  It would just start to get interesting, the pace would pick up and I would begin to care about what happened to Billy or Hoover and then it would sort of trail off.  This pattern repeated throughout the book.  There also seemed to be difficulty deciding who would tell the story–Billy or Hoover.  The narrative was most successful when one distinct narrator was chosen; the transitions between alternating narrative were the places where the author tended to lose my attention.

What sets this book apart from the dozens like it is Billy’s character.  Billy is bullied, harassed and ultimately humiliated by fellow student, Rod Brownstone, his next door neighbor.  With Hoover’s help Billy discovers a secret that will completely humiliate Rod. Billy has every reason to go through with his plan for revenge: what Rod has done to him was extremely hurtful and–truthfully–there is a certain kind of justice in the idea of paying someone back with the exact same hurt they visited upon you.  Billy, however, has a moment when he sees beyond simply paying Rod back one unkindness for another.  He makes a choice that allows him to stand up for himself, have Rod rightfully experience some of the same feelings he inflicted on Billy, himself, and at the same time allows him to remain true to his values of kindness and respect.

Although I thought this first book was just “okay,” I did find myself liking Billy and Hoover by the end.  I think there is potential in the coming books of the series to see the action/pacing even out to maintain a consistently higher interest level for the reader.  This series is probably best enjoyed by 3-6th graders.  If you enjoy the Hank Zipzer series, you might want to check this one out as an independent read.

Teachers:  this could work as a nice read-aloud if you are looking for a story that has humor laced into a message about how to handle bullying and conflict resolution, for the reason that Billy does NOT end up relying only on his impulses to REACT to a problem.  He comes up with a better (though by no means perfect) solution.


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