Green Eyes and Ham

HarperCollins. May 2022. 448p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062696939.
Gr 5 Up–Penney continues her heartfelt exploration of the middle grade years from her first novel, Eleven and Holding, in this new coming-of-age chronicle. Abraham “Ham” Hudson is the source of much local gossip in his small hometown of Muddy Waters, CA. As an infant he was abandoned inside a decorative Nativity scene, only to be adoptedby the beloved parson at the parsonage. For the next 13 years the church is his home and his school, but a sudden “cardiac event” makes it clear that Ham’s mother can no longer devote herself to her congregation and his education. Even with the support of newly arrived Fey and longtime parental figure Deuce, Ham dreads the return to public school. The awkwardness and taunting is soon leavened by the introduction of Micah, a charming and self-assured boy who immediately ignites Ham’s admiration. But the desire to pursue this wonderful new relationship and parse out his feelings for Micah leads Ham to lose the sense of himself in the process. Written in clear and graceful prose, this novel will immediately spark pangs of recognition and sympathy. Penney is adept at showing the facets of the adolescent experience like a diamond: a beautiful thing to behold, but one with sharp edges. While there are screwball hijinks like cats on the loose to lighten the mood, Penney doesn’t hold back in examining the complex lessons inherent in growing up. Before the story’s end, Ham is forced to confront new and mystifying truths about himself, his family and friends, and the fickle nature of life itself.
VERDICT A recommended purchase for public and school libraries serving readers who crave books that have all the feels and that reflect their own lived experiences with just the right touch of whimsy.

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