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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Friendship, Middle Grade Readers, Music, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations, Young Adult Readers

B.U.G. [BIG UGLY GUY] by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

B.U.G.B.U.G. is extraordinarily successful blending of contemporary realistic and fantasy fiction.  In addition to the seamlessly interwoven genres the story embodies the themes at the heart of every individual–particularly young people–trying to decide who we are when overwhelmed by feelings and circumstances.

Sammy is bullied mercilessly at school–both physically and emotionally.  His only solace is his music–klezmer, a Jewish traditional music form.  When Sammy begins studying for his bar mitzvah the rabbi tells him about a legendary defender of the Jewish people–a mythical creature called a golem.  Heedless of the rabbi’s warnings, when Sammy reaches his breaking point at school he creates his own golem and brings it to life.

Sammy discovers there are responsibilities and dangers involved with creating a life–any life–that he did not expect.  He is forced to make decisions about retaliating in anger or simply protecting and standing up for himself.  Doing the right thing when you have been repeatedly hurt by another is one of the most difficult decisions any of us face.  I appreciated this aspect of the story.

Amid the fantastical existence of golems are the genuine themes of friendship, compassion and personal integrity. Having read many bully-themed novels this year, I enjoyed the fact that B.U.G. was different in the addition of the fantasy elements.  Do kids get their heads stuffed in toilets by bullies?  Truthfully, not really.  Are they browbeaten and ostracized? Absolutely–far too frequently.  Due to the universality of the story’s theme and the obvious fantasy element of the golem I was willing to suspend reality for those of Sammy’s circumstances that would not have been believable in a strictly contemporary fiction book.


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