The Bubble Wrap Boy

288p. ebook available. Delacorte. Oct. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553513158.
Gr 4–7—Charlie Han is small for his age and uncoordinated and possesses limited social skills. Those problems pale in comparison to the challenge of his mother, who is so protective that she still keeps a baby gate at the top of the stairs, and makes him ride a tricycle rather than a bicycle. Charlie's life changes the day he sees a boy on a skateboard. Deciding that he needs to try it himself, despite the knowledge that his mother would never let him, Charlie learns that he has real talent. His covert training is inevitably discovered by his mother, who publicly humiliates him, stripping him of his skateboard and all privileges. While grounded, Charlie finds out that he's not the only one in his family with a secret. His mother has been hiding a shocking one, and Charlie begins to understand her overprotective nature. He develops a closer relationship with his previously distant father and soon hatches a plan to bring the family secret out into the open. The Bubble Wrap Boy begins slowly, with Earle spending the first few chapters showing how awkward and socially inept Charlie is. Thankfully, the pace picks up when Charlie begins skating, and the tempo further accelerates when the boy discovers his mother's secret. Important topics such as bullying, resiliency, and shifting family dynamics are explored in this coming-of-age novel. Charlie's sidekick Sinus provides welcome comic relief and widens the novel's appeal. Charlie is a likable character, and his first-person narration allow readers to experience firsthand the highs and lows of a remarkable year in his life, though his voice often sounds older than his intended age. Earle excels at showing personal growth in the characters, and it is gratifying to observe the believable evolution of Sinus's and Charlie's parents.
VERDICT Family drama with a solid mix of action, adventure, and humor. Purchase where upper middle grade coming-of-age novels are in demand.

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