Tamara Ann Simpson is one tough kid, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings too. She is devastated when her best friend Kebsie, a neighborhood foster child, suddenly moves away. Tamara becomes so wrapped up in her own loneliness that she makes life for the new foster kid a real nightmare. She ironically nicknames the scrawny newcomer Muscle Man McGinty when he comes to take Kebsie’s place at the foster home next door. His outlandish lies and incessant strutting drive Tamara to distraction as she watches him win over the affection of all the kids and adults in the neighborhood. Who would ever believe that he was actually training for the Olympics or that he was a former Broadway star!? The lie that really sends Tamara over the edge is when he says that Neil Armstrong is his uncle. No matter how hard she tries to put him in his place, Muscle Man always takes abuse with impossibly good humor. The story progresses to reveal much more going on than a classic case of bully versus wimp.
Behind all the hurt and the humor of the text lie a lot of lessons for readers. This book is a historical fiction set around the first moon landing and the Vietnam War. Readers get to see the effects of the war from the point of view of a kid alive at the time. There’s no history lesson hidden here, you can just see the sorrow of a neighborhood mourning the loss of beloved young son, drafted and killed in the war. Readers also get a lesson in compassion as they see the hidden tragedy in Muscle Man’s past and the indifference between Tamara and her parents. It’s unusual for a kid’s book to be written from the point of view of a bully that is so filled with humor, compassion, and depth. This book manages to make readers sympathize with the Tamara and Muscle Man as the story reveals their hidden pain and insecurities. This is a humorous, educational, and touching book about understanding and redemption. I would recommend this for readers who enjoyed books like The Mostly True Adventures of Home P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, or Blubber by Judy Blume. This is a really great book for understanding the motives of a young bully.
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