Nickel Bay Nick is the newest contribution from Dean Pitchford–whose Captain Nobody has become a staple in my read-aloud repertoire with middle grade students. Sam Brattle lives with his dad in Nickel Bay, a town hit hard by the economic downturn. A former firefighter (and local hero) Sam’s dad is now struggling to keep his small bakery open in a town where many other small businesses are closing and the larger ones are moving away.
Sam’s mother left when he was small, right before he got so ill he required a heart transplant to live. Sam is awash in the misery of feeling alone and abandoned and not quite whole within himself. Teased at school, he has taken to hanging around with Jaxon, an older boy with a penchant for shoplifting and vandalism. As a result, Sam has developed a reputation in the small community as a troublemaker.
When an accident on Christmas night throws Sam into contact with his elderly next door neighbor, Mr. Wells, Sam doesn’t immediately realize he has a chance to change his future by making some different choices in the NOW.
Nickel Bay Nick has a lot of good intentions. The problem is that none of those good intentions ever really blossom into a well-plotted story. Sam almost achieves the genuine voice I am used to hearing in Pitchford’s main characters but not quite; he never really emerges from the pages in any three-dimensional form. The same can be said of the other characters in the story–Mr. Wells, Jaxon, even Sam’s father; they are all more ideas of characters than actual functioning beings in the story.
Surprisingly, I had a hard time getting through this one; I was often bored. Nickel Bay Nick has some nice moments–like the scene where Sam first encounters Mr. Wells and the escapades at the Four Seasons Mall at the end–but overall it is just an okay read.