Buck Fever

Buck Fever

5.0 1
by Cynthia Chapman Willis

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Twelve-year-old Joey MacTagert's dad wants his son to carry on the family tradition of hunting. But Joey has "buck fever"—he can't pull the trigger on a deer, and hates the idea of killing animals. He's more interested in art and hockey, two activities that his dad barely acknowledges.

Joey's dad wants him to use his special skill in tracking to hunt down


Twelve-year-old Joey MacTagert's dad wants his son to carry on the family tradition of hunting. But Joey has "buck fever"—he can't pull the trigger on a deer, and hates the idea of killing animals. He's more interested in art and hockey, two activities that his dad barely acknowledges.

Joey's dad wants him to use his special skill in tracking to hunt down the big antlered buck that roams the woods near their home. Joey knows how to track Old Buck, but has kept secret from his father the reason he's gained the deer's trust. When trouble between his parents seems to escalate, Joey and his older sister, Philly, find themselves in the middle of tensions they don't fully understand. Joey wants to keep the peace, and if conquering his buck fever will do it, he has to try.

Buck Fever is a nominee for the 2003 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Editorial Reviews

The quietness of nature and small-town life is wonderfully reflected in Willis' patient and artful prose, and every hunting detail feels authentic, from the construction of deer blinds to the skinning of animals. An unusually sensitive and reflective boy-centric book.
Publishers Weekly
Willis's (Dog Gone) second novel nicely weaves a few familiar tropes into an entertaining and intense tale. Twelve-year-old Joey has the talent to be an amazing hunter: he's a great shot and, thanks to an ear infection that left him partially deaf, his sense of smell borders on the super-human. His father, an avid hunter, expects Joey to bring down his first buck during deer season, but Joey is more interested in playing hockey and drawing. With Joey's mother constantly out of the country on business trips, Joey struggles to tell his father that he doesn't want to shoot a deer, as well as whether to enter the art show his neighbor and mentor, Mrs. Davies, is pushing him toward. Subplots revolving around illegal hunting tactics and a creepy neighbor eventually merge into Joey's story, leading to a tense and dangerous climax. Willis avoids easy answers, clichés, and moralizing, instead focusing on Joey's inner struggle and the stress his mother's absence causes. The result is a satisfying novel filled with solid characters who learn the consequences of making some hard choices. Ages 9–13. (Nov.)
Children's Literature - Paula Rohrlick
Joey's dad expects him to be an eager hunter, carrying on a cherished family tradition, but Joey would much rather draw deer than shoot them. Still, he hates to disappoint his father, who is going through a rough time now that Joey's mother has taken a new job and is off traveling much of the time. Joey, his older sister Philly, and their dad all miss her terribly and home life is starting to fall apart. So, Joey tries to overcome his "buck fever" and not freeze up when trying to pull the trigger, while coping with family tensions and pressure from school, friends, and his hockey coach. It takes a shooting accident in the woods to sort out the various issues and have Joey's family accept his unique strengths and interests. Willis, author of Dog Gone, is a fine writer, and this sensitive portrait of a twelve-year-old in Pennsylvania trying to deal with others' demands while remaining true to himself will resonate with readers going through identity struggles of their own, even if the plot is somewhat predictable. The dialogue is realistic, with flashes of humor. Willis carefully lays out the pros and cons of hunting and depicts family dynamics with care and understanding. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
VOYA - Walter Hogan
Joey's mother has a new job that requires extensive travel, and during her lengthy absences, the household of twelve-year-old Joey, his older sister Philly, and their stressed-out dad is steadily unraveling. Moreover it is the start of hunting season, and Mr. MacTagert expects his son to uphold the family hunting tradition. Joey is a sturdy boy who plays hockey and enjoys the outdoors, but he prefers to stalk deer with a camera and sketchpad rather than with a gun. On the first day of hunting season, Joey declines to pull the trigger on a buck lined up in his gun sights, but he feels unable to explain himself to his irritable and demanding father. During the following week, Joey agonizes over the conflict. His reckless decision to go hunting alone in hopes of bagging a trophy to please his father brings about a dramatic resolution that ties together the diverse elements of this competently told story of a typical American family in a semi-rural hunting community. This novel is not an anti-hunting treatise, but rather one that develops a theme of tolerance along multiple lines. Joey's distaste for hunting, his mother's desire to pursue a career, and the antisocial habits of another major character cause problems with friends, family, and neighbors until the issues are brought into the open and negotiated between people of good will. The story's villains are poachers and drunken, careless hunters who spoil the woods and the wildlife for everyone else—hunters and nature lovers alike. Reviewer: Walter Hogan
Kirkus Reviews
Joey doesn't fail to shoot the deer because of "buck fever"-the jitters that often accompany a novice hunter's first trip-he just plumb doesn't want to kill it. He'd rather draw it than shoot it, but he knows his father, an umpteenth-generation hunter who's been waiting for his son's first Opening Day for 12 years, will never get it. Willis throws a lot at Joey: His father doesn't understand him, his mother has lost herself in her second career as an art buyer and is traveling more than she's home, his schoolwork is suffering and he can't figure out how he can please everyone-his father, his hockey teammates and the artist who lives next door and is dying to mentor him. Joey's first-person, present-tense narration never feels quite natural, although his panic at trying to resolve his conflicting obligations and desires rings true. While this is ultimately yet another father-and-son-resolve-expectations story, its rural Pennsylvania hunting-community milieu sets it apart-just don't expect kids who hunt to want to read it, because it's not for them. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Feiwel & Friends
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Dad returns to the kitchen, drops a jacket and boots onto a chair seat. “Today will be a lot different than all the other times we’ve been in the woods, son.” He attaches a nine-inch hunting knife, in its sheath, to his belt. “No searching out deer paths and food sources, no more just watching the habits of bucks. This day is about the hunt.”

He grabs his fluorescent-orange vest from the back of the chair and pulls the vest over his camouflage tan and brown jacket as he moves to my right. If you ask me, he hates the hearing aid crammed into my left ear. It’s an advertisement that his only son has a defect. No, he’s never said this. But the fifth in Joseph Morgan MacTagert the fifth means I’m supposed to be a copy of Dad, the next in a long line of Joseph Morgan MacTagerts, all hunters. No one has to spell this out for me . . .

“Thanks, Dad.” I try to come off as thrilled. This isn’t easy. The jacket and the boots highlight that I’m not as big as Dad was at twelve. Having a five-foot no inches son weighing in at eighty-five pounds (wearing every sweatshirt I own) and sporting a hearing aid can’t thrill him.

Meet the Author

CYNTHIA CHAPMAN WILLIS's first novel, Dog Gone, was praised by Kirkus Reviews as "satisfying, appealing . . . a well-told story, spiced with humor and facts on animal care," and she was called "an author to watch." A former editor, she now writes full-time, and lives in New Jersey with her family.

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Buck Fever 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
wiles More than 1 year ago
I have been eagerly awaiting the sophomore effort by Cynthia Willis. While I greatly enjoyed her first book, Dog Gone, her second book struck a chord with me. As a young boy growing up in the South (where getting a knife at age five and a gun at age ten is a rite of passage), the main character's struggle with deer hunting hit home. Does he kill the biggest buck in the area--the one everyone wants--to impress his dad and help his parents' marriage, or does he save the buck who he has been secretly drawing and from whom he has earned his trust? And, will his father ever understand his love of art and hockey--not hunting? The story unfolds to a satifying conclusion, with twists, surprises, and memorable characters all along the way. Bravo, Cynthia!