When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in "the Kool-Aid Kid," who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.
I learned about this book at the SCBWI MidSouth conference I attended back in September. Initially, I was a little unsure about it, since the title sounded angsty. But I found a copy at the library last week and dove in, and I'm glad I did. This story was a compelling read. (Quite literally. I stayed up past midnight every night, reading it.)
Bodee was my favorite part, by far. He is pure gold, someone utterly sincere and caring, especially toward Alexi. And you wouldn't expect these traits from him, as someone who grew up in an abusive home. He had to sleep in a tent in the woods at night to be safe from his father. Just before this story begins, he witnessed his father murdering his mother. He could be a very cynical and vengeful person. But he isn't. I loved watching how he warmed up to Lexi as she reached out to him, and I loved seeing how these two ultimately became exactly what the other needed, offering strength and encouragement to help the other. Their interactions always felt genuine. I also appreciated that we were able to see them grow into friends, and then move toward a relationship, based on their mutual respect and need for one another. No insta-love here, folks. And the two are more compelling for it.
The book was not without some weaknesses. I did become frustrated with Alexi and her inability to say "no" to guys when their kissing and other romantic attentions were not wanted. I prefer my heroines to be stronger, not doormats. But, this inaction was redeemed, at least, when Alexi called herself out on these behaviors. Ultimately, they become her central struggle of the book: Why can't, why won't she say no? In the end, we are able to see a girl who confronts her fears and at last stands up for herself. And I enjoyed seeing her grow in to this person. She is truly a changed person by the book's close.
Another peeve: When Alexi is realizing her inability to say no, she presumes there must be some traumatic incident from her childhood that is to blame. This move felt cliched, and the memory she does initially dregs up feels ... anticlimactic. Alexi is upset by the memory of encountering a friend in the restroom, the boy's restroom, at the public pool. They are both naked. They are both three years old. Seriously, hardly a malicious encounter. I wanted to shake Alexi when she kept dwelling on this: "I have seen Ray naked." Really? You were three years old! It was an accident. Get over it. I was grateful that, in the end, this is not the memory she was looking for.
But a few minor weakness aside, this was an excellent story, and I highly recommend. Looking forward to reading The Blue-Haired Boy, Bodee's own novella.
My rating: Four Stars (Very Good. Highly recommend.)