I’m tired of bullies. Both in real life and in fiction. I was about to pass on this story until I saw the author’s name—Leslie Connor. Her special way of creating an endearing character wraps me up every time. These are characters you remember months and even years after reading. Like Addie in WAITING FOR NORMAL, Dewey in CRUNCH, and 2016’s Perry in ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK , one I reviewed at ALWAYS in the MIDDLE.

So… I weakened. Bring on the bullies. I’m glad I did.

Seventh grader Mason Buttle is an honest boy with a lot of emotional baggage. He lives with an uncle and grandmother because he had a walk-away daddy. Six years ago his gramps and mom both died. More recently he lost his best friend in an accident… or was it? Lieutenant Baird doesn’t think so and is looking for an answer from Mason.

Not an easy task for Mason since he can’t read and emotions emit colors in his mind (a form of synesthesia). To add to his woes, he has a condition that makes him sweat profusely. Enough to make him bring a change of shirt to school each day.

He does have comfort in the social worker room at school and a new friend, Calvin. He also loves the apple orchards surrounding the family’s house. Getting home each day after school is a race to beat the two neighboring bullies who pelt him with apples and balls slung from their lacrosse sticks.

Mason’s first person narration will make your eyes water at times, but also give hope for such a positive persona put forth by Mason. He struggles and survives despite the turmoil of his existence. I’m hugging this book but also hugging Mason. Kids like him need understanding and compassion. Thank goodness for the Ms. Blinny’s of the world who provide just that in schools everywhere. Besides the bullies there was only one other character who I didn’t care for— the family’s young tenant, Shayleen, but eventually a reason surfaces for her place in the story.

Overall, it is a bit long for a MG contemporary and a hard sell will be needed for some young readers to pick up and read the 74 chapters. They will be rewarded with another winning character study from a masterful author.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon)

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard. An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Both Mason and his new friend, tiny Calvin Chumsky, are relentlessly bullied by the other boys in their neighborhood, so they create an underground club space for themselves. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself in trouble again. He’s desperate to figure out what happened to Calvin, and eventually, Benny.

But will anyone believe him?



  1. The bully’s dog, Moonie, provides a heartwarming friendship to Mason. Dogs always know where to find their true friend.
  2. The story is complex on many levels but so clear by the time you turn the last page. The work of a gifted author.
  3. The secondary characters shine in their own way. Social worker Ms. Blinny, Detective Baird and sweet Calvin—each providing their own brand of support to Mason.
  4. Mason is a perfect prescription for those kids who feel they’ve drawn the bad cards in their lives. He looks the other way and sees what he does have and is thankful for it.
  5. Mason often uses three words before his thoughts: I think this… What I think of after reading the novel is Heartwarming. Powerful. A compelling read for all.


When I say that Ms. Blinny knows a lot about me. I mean she knows because I tell her. She says I talk a blue streak. She thinks I have a story. Funny thing. She is not the only one who thinks that. Lieutenant Baird thinks it too. He thinks I have a story about my best friend, Benny Kilmartin. More than I already told him. He gave me that notebook. Wants me to write in it. But that is a nightmare for a kid like me.


The first draft usually takes me about a year. I spend a long, long time thinking about the story first. (I start an envelope for each idea, where I collect scribbled passages, snippets of dialog, research notes, museum brochures, maps, and photographs.) After a manuscript is accepted I work with my editor through several revisions. That can take six weeks for some projects, and as much as a year for others. (For more insights visit Leslie Connor’s author website).


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in New Release, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I have also enjoyed other books by this author and really, really want to get to this one soon. Thanks for this review. Very nice.

  2. msyingling says:

    I really like the format of your reviews! Haven’t mentioned it before, but it hits some highlights I feel I miss. Thanks for running MMGM!

  3. I haven’t read this author. The story sounds complicated, but I love your discussion of the unique characters. I think most kids encounter bullies and it has become part of their stories. I remember bullies at school and snobbish girls who ignored or wouldn’t talk to me. It’s hard to tell a story that doesn’t include a bully of some sort in middle grade schools.

  4. Susan says:

    “I’m hugging this book but also hugging Mason”–sweet! Sounds like a book with a ton of heart.

  5. Andrea Mack says:

    Sounds interesting, though heartbreaking at times. I’ll have to look for it!

  6. Sounds like a strong story, but emotional.Thanks for sharing it.

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