Brave Like That

HarperCollins/Harper. Jun. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062878113.
Gr 3-7–When a dog is left at the firehouse where his dad works, Cyrus immediately feels a connection. As a baby, he’d been abandoned there, too. The only person who could soothe him was Brooks Olson, the firefighter who ultimately adopted him. His dad has a strict no pets policy and warns Cyrus not to get attached to the dog he named Parker. The undernourished dog has health issues, and after dropping him off at the vet, Dad instructs Cyrus to forget about Parker and focus on middle school football tryouts. The problem is, Cyrus no longer wants to play football. He hasn’t found a way to share the news with his dad, who is also a local football legend. He also hasn’t figured out how to explain his struggles with reading. This issue becomes even more troubling when Cyrus is instructed to write a book report for language arts class. Balancing these secrets becomes harder, especially when Cyrus begins skipping football practice to volunteer at the shelter where Parker is housed. When Cyrus is caught in a lie, it is time to come clean with his father about who he wants to be. Stoddard has created complex, heartfelt characters. Cyrus’s grandmother, who has lost the ability to speak after a stroke, helps Cyrus navigate his struggles with reading and foster a love for music. The passages featuring their unique way of communicating are extraordinary. His burgeoning friendship with nonconformist new student Eduardo, who is bullied by Cyrus’s former football friends, is authentically written, and it’s a joy to see Cyrus finding his own voice as he defends him.
VERDICT This heartfelt and triumphant novel touches on bullying, stereotypes, and learning differences in a straightforward fashion. Cyrus’s journey toward self-acceptance will inspire readers of all ages.

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