Recommended for readers 8-12
Seventh-grader Noah is having a bad year. His mother was arrested on a DUI and is serving a six-month sentence in prison; he lashed out on the football field, getting his school’s football program shut down. To say he’s persona non grata at school is putting it likely. Jeff, his mother’s boyfriend, has taken him in while Noah’s mom serves her sentence, and is trying to reach out to Noah, but Noah just sees himself as yet another burden on everyone. He’s taunted and bullied at school; even his former best friend, Landon, has joined the crowd in leaving garbage in his locker and making snide remarks during class, in the halls, wherever they see an opportunity.
And then, the bear shows up. Not much older than a cub, Noah notices the bear wandering around near the school. The school begins a fundraiser to bring back the football team, dumping buckets of Gatorade on themselves and donating money to the cause, and the bear gets her head caught in a bucket. Noah has a cause: he wants to save the bear. He’ll risk even more bullying and ridicule to do it, because now it’s him against the entire school, desperate to bring back that football team. Thankfully, he’s got a friend or two on his side. Noah’s desire to save the bear gives him a reason to keep going; the bear is bringing him back from the brink.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a Beth Vrabel fangirl. She knows how to write for tweens. She tackles bullying, addiction, dysfunctional families, and social justice in Bringing Me Back, and makes it all flow seamlessly. Kids can empathize with all of the kids in this story: kids who live in areas where school sports are just as important as schoolwork; kids living with a single parent or stepparent; kids being bullied; kids who need a reason to keep going. She subtly addresses teacher bullying and the frustration of an education system that appears to be dialing it in to some students – what do you do when you’ve grown beyond your school? Bringing Me Back is a solid addition to realistic fiction shelves.