B.U.G.: (Big Ugly Guy)

YOLEN, Jane & . 344p. Dutton. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42238-9
Gr 4–7—Sammy Greenburg, 13, is tired of feeling scared and alone, and of being beaten up and tormented by a gang of bullies known as the Boyz. When he meets a new student who shares his interest in music, he is thrilled to have someone to call a friend. His joy is short-lived, however, when Skink is badly injured by the Boyz. Sammy decides that he and Skink need protection, so he creates a golem from clay, a mythical bodyguard from Jewish folklore. Gully soon becomes more than Sammy's protector; he becomes his friend. Despite warnings from his rabbi to destroy Gully before it's too late, Sammy revels in his newfound sense of security. While he is happier than ever, perceptive readers will sense danger ahead. A good amount of suspense is built into this story, but the plot drags at times. Readers will relate to Sammy's feelings of loneliness and frustration, but the other characters feel flat and underdeveloped. Most disappointing of all is the cringe-worthy dialogue, which seems much too young for both the characters and the intended audience. This is especially problematic when paired with advanced vocabulary and some violent content, as when one of the bullies attempts to kill him. While elements of this story may appeal to fans of magical realism, ultimately the slow pace and cheesy dialogue will disappoint most readers.—Liz Overberg, Darlington Middle School, Rome, GA
Twelve-year-old Sammy Greenburg is a victim. School bullies make his days miserable -- dunking him headfirst into the toilet, tripping him in the hallway, spitting on his food. But things begin to look up when he befriends a new student named Skink, and they start a "klezmer jazz boogie pop fusion rock" band with fellow student Julia Nathanson. Skink even attends Sammy's Hebrew lessons with Rabbi Chaim, who, upon hearing of the bullying, introduces the boys to the story of Reb Judah Loew, who, in sixteenth-century Prague, created a golem, "made of clay, animated by the name of God, to stand as protector of the Jews when death threatened them all." When Skink is severely beaten by the same bullies who make Sammy's school life a nightmare, Sammy creates his own golem to protect him and Skink. Somehow, Sammy is able to make a being so lifelike that he attends school, comes over to spend the night, and plays drums in the band, and no one wonders too much who he is or where he came from. Though utterly far-fetched, this is a likable tale with a clear and laudable message about friendship and learning to fight your own battles. dean schneider

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