by S. L. LaNeve
From Website: Dad’s last words before being deployed to Afghanistan, “Make me proud,” send Spanky in a tail spin as he struggles to get a special girl’s attention, fend off a bully, show his skills on the Outdoor Ed camping trip, and live up to what he thinks Dad’s words mean. Ultimately, he must face his fears and learn the true meaning of friendship and heroism.
First Sentence: When ‘ole Blowfish found me mouth-mouth with my teacher, Miss Anders, I could’ve been a hero.
“Spanky” McDougal is the new kid in school. His family has just moved to Appalacheeville, Florida and David I. Patrick Middle School. Spanky’s pressures increase when his father is called to active duty, making Spanky the “head of the household.” For her part, mom is not capable of being a parent due to major depression aggravated by her husband’s departure. Dad uses his last month at home to instruct Spanky in his new household responsibilities, never once considering Spanky and his emotions and concerns.
On his first bus ride to school, Mack Malone, the school bully, physically attacks Spanky. That is the first of many. Spanky has one friend, Dar, who is intelligent, extremely skinny, and another of Mack’s targets. Mack enjoys taunting one or both of the boys on a daily basis. Spanky would normally discuss guys like Mack with dad, together they came up with a solution. With dad away, Spanky is clueless, only knowing he wants revenge.
Spanky is also finding himself freezing whenever he has the chance to prove himself. He tries to figure out what to do, but regardless of his desires and thoughts, he continues to freeze. This was not just with Mack. Spanky froze when his teacher collapsed, requiring CPR, which he knows. He did fine until it came time to administer mouth-to-mouth. Dar, who had been guiding Spanky, took over until the paramedics arrived. The adults give Spanky his due for his part in saving the teacher’s life, but the kids all saw him freeze. Spanky believes he could have killed his teacher. When called to the board in class, Spanky again freezes, unable to write one word. All of this freezing up is taking its toll on Spanky and he has no one to talk to about it all. He does not want to worry his dad feeling he could disrupt his focus during a time when he needs to be one –hundred percent focused. Spanky finally finds an outlet for his pain and frustration when a substitute teacher arrives.
Ms. Badu, “baah like a sheep and do like how dooo you do,” is a large colorful woman with a strange ability to “get inside the heads” of students, making them better. She never is able to stop Mack’s bullying of Spanky and Dar, but she does find the once smart boy buried deep inside him. Everything comes crashing down on Spanky at the annual class overnight camp-out, when he is placed in the same tent as Mack and his harmless side-kick Ned.
SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son focuses on two important topics: bullying and kids with a parent fighting in the war in the Middle East (or any war). I like the way the author showed Spanky Mack’s home life, or at least a sharp picture of it. Spanky witnesses Mack’s father physically abusing his son outside of the school entrance. Mack bullies other kids he feels he can control and dispense the anger he receives daily from his father. This parent/child dynamic is one classic cause of kids who bully. Unfortunately, knowing this does not help Spanky stop his abuse or his feelings of vengeance.
I like that the biggest message is to talk about your problems, rather than letting them get bottled up then mashed down deep where they will fester causing daily problems. When a child loses a parent to war, he may be losing the parent he can confide in. Or, in Spanky’s case, the parent left at home may become unable to parent, leaving the child to fend for themselves at home, often becoming the parent to the parent. This is what happened to Spanky. His mother is depressed, but given Spanky’s descriptions of mom’s behavior as “like a rollercoaster” and the extreme behaviors she exhibits, I would say she has bi-polar disorder and in need of different medication and cognitive therapy.
SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son does involve intense issues—bullying, depression, and war—but never in a way that would terrify a reader. Spanky finds his missing confidence after he confides in his teacher and friends, showing the power of communication to help relieve built up stress. In the end, do Spanky, Dar, and Mack settle their problems? Do they learn how to become friends? I wish I could say.
Oddly, SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son was not picked up by a publisher. It is a strong story with likeable characters, great conflict and resolution, flows smoothly, tackles complex issues with grace, and adds humor in the right places. This is Ms. LaNeve’s debut novel for the middle grades. She began writing the story for her MFA. Ms. LaNeve designed the cover and shot the photographs used.
Any child with a parent or other loved one called to active duty would do well to read SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son. I think the story has enough about bullying to make it a good choice for anyone who is a victim of a bully or wants to understand the phenomenon from a kid’s point of view. Adults will also enjoy reading SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son. This well-written novel is suitable for advanced readers age eight and above.
Read Erik’s review at This Kid Reviews Books HERE.
Read an excerpt HERE. (“Look Inside”)
Read an interview with the author, S.L. LaNeve HERE!
Other books for military kids can be found HERE.
S. L. LaNeve website travelblog blog Released January 4, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-9839865-1-5 257 Pages Ages 8 to 12 (+) . Copyright © 2011 by S. L. LaNeve
DONATED TO LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY
- interview – Q&A with Author Sue LaNeve (kid-lit-reviews.com)
- The Next Big Thing Blog Tour! (quirkandquill.com)
- Controversial New Book Just Released – “Bullies Suck” Available on Amazon Kindle – Discover How to Take Back Your Power from the Bullies in Your Life (prweb.com)
- Supporters gather to promote anti-bullying campaign (journalstar.com)
- Georgia middle-schooler commits suicide after bullying, being called ‘snitch,’ dad says (usnews.nbcnews.com)
- Law will allow seizure of phones (stuff.co.nz)
- Cyberbullying (nd20121707la.wordpress.com)
- Raising Compassionate Kids (everydayfamily.com)
- Bullying and Young Children: How to Spot the Signs and What to Do (everydayfamily.com)