Anderson, John David. Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. Emma Yarlett, Illus. Fiction. Walden Pond/HarperCollins, 06/2016. 320pp. $16.99. 978-0-06-233817-4. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 4-7.
With their favorite teacher in the hospital battling cancer and unable to make it back to school for a goodbye party, Brand, Steve, and Topher hatch a plan to skip school and comb the city to collect some of Ms. Bixby’s favorite things (cheesecake, wine, etc.), thinking that they will bring the party to her. Chapters rotate through the individual points of view of the three main boys: Steve, who is Japanese American and living in the shadow of his perfect sister; Brand, white, and struggling to singlehandedly take care of his father who is now paraplegic following a work accident; and Topher, a brilliant white kid who loves words and drawing. The bulk of the novel takes place over the course of a single day—the day they skip school to follow through with their plan—with each of the boys ruminating through flashbacks which flesh out their histories and individual associations with Ms. Bixby. Plaintive and sentimental, but not overly so, this is one of those cleverly done stories that reveals itself by moving forward in time while slowly filling in the past with revelations that help to elucidate the larger picture and the motivations behind character actions. An amusing “caper” dotted with hilarious setbacks, and a solid depiction of boys who are supportive friends, Anderson’s novel highlights the impact we can have on each other without ever realizing it, and the fact that even if you feel alone, in reality there’s likely someone looking out for, noticing, and championing you.
Eric Barbus, San Francisco PL