RACHEL SPINELLI PUNCHED ME IN THE FACE.
Publishers Weekly (reviewed June 2011)
Acampora follows his debut novel, Defining Dulcie, with another moving story about a parent and child reinventing themselves to cope with loss. After 14-year-old Zachary's mother walks out without saying goodbye, he and his police officer father leave Colorado for a fresh start. The small town of Falls, Conn., is populated with suitably offbeat residents--a Polish couple who keep their taxidermied German shepherd at their ice cream store, a know-it-all librarian named Fines, and, most important, next-door neighbor Rachel and her older brother, Teddy, a lovable trumpet virtuoso who has an unspecified disorder (autism?) that forces Rachel into the protector role. Zachary's father assesses people by what he adjudges their superpower to be, and he thinks Rachel's is rage, fueled by anger at the universe (her mother died giving birth to her). Over the summer, Zachary grows to understand both Rachel's real superpower--her "ferocious" love of Teddy--and the depth of the wound his own mother left him with. Acampora's light touch with weighty issues makes for a highly appealing read--readers will want to spend more time with these well-crafted and complex characters. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews (reviewed June 2011)
New friends ease a young teen’s adjustment to his mother’s sudden absence.
After Zachary’s mom abandons them, he and his father move to a small Connecticut town, where he makes friends with 14-year-old Rachel and her mildly mentally disabled older brother, Teddy. Teddy is a musical prodigy but less capable in other areas. Rachel has always vigorously defended him from local bullies, but her assiduous care has limited his ability to develop to his fullest potential. Juggling his growing friendship with Teddy and his increasing desire for a deeper relationship with prickly Rachel, Zachary also faces his unresolved grief and anger over his mother’s sudden departure. From a quirky pair of local restaurateurs to a pregnant teacher to Zachary’s loving father, each character is given a personality, and even those just lightly sketched come off the pages as real people. Realistic dialogue and poignantly amusing situations—Teddy steals his mother’s ashes from their resting place in a teapot in the family diner in order to “let her out,” leaving Zachary to try to save the day without hurting anyone’s feelings—all come together to gently flesh out a few months in the lives of people readers will savor getting to know.
An outstanding, humane coming-of-age tale of loss, yearning and forgiveness. (Fiction. 10-14)
School Library Journal (reviewed August 2011)
Gr 6-8– In this warm and funny novel, a move to Falls, CT, lets Zachary and his dad begin over after Zachary’s mom leaves them to follow her own dreams. Zachary, at 14, has plenty to adjust to but finds himself in a warmly inviting community. Rachel, an expert on detention, and her older, special-needs brother, Teddy, become constants in Zachary’s life and the three forge strong bonds. With a supportive dad and new friends, Falls begins to feel like home. From the elderly Polish-American couple who sent their beloved deceased dog to a taxidermist and keep him in their ice-cream shop so he can continue to welcome customers to the very pregnant band teacher who lets all her students feel the baby kick, the characters and the historic town with its leafy green streets form a safe and comforting ambience. Zachary himself is agreeably average and eminently likable. A change from problem novels filled with emotionally distant adults and troubled teens, this is a welcome respite. Quirky characters, small-town hominess, and frequent touches of humor create a Joan Bauer feel with cross-gender appeal. –Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library District, Elgin, IL