The Hero

Overview

Nobody would believe Dennis Leeper was a hero. He was the kind of kid you hid from when he pedaled his rickety bike down the road. But Jamie couldn’t say no when his father asked him to include Dennis in the raft project. And someone needed to hold the line when Jamie and his cousin Jerry finally got the raft in the river. But they should have known that Dennis couldn’t be trusted to hold onto it.

Without paddles and out of people’s sight, ...
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Overview

Nobody would believe Dennis Leeper was a hero. He was the kind of kid you hid from when he pedaled his rickety bike down the road. But Jamie couldn’t say no when his father asked him to include Dennis in the raft project. And someone needed to hold the line when Jamie and his cousin Jerry finally got the raft in the river. But they should have known that Dennis couldn’t be trusted to hold onto it.

Without paddles and out of people’s sight, the three boys are swept downstream—toward the dams, the steep falls, and three separate destinies. One swims to shore. One is rescued. And one never returns alive.

Overcome by guilt and the fear that Dennis’s father will take revenge for his son’s death, Jamie tells everyone how he survived: Dennis was a hero. The question is: Will anyone believe it?

Despite his father's rules and his own fear of the water, fourteen-year-old Jamie joins his older cousin in taking the raft they made out onto the river, where a tragic accident leads Jamie to make the most difficult decision of his life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's the summer of 1957, and 14-year-old Jamie West is busy with farm chores at home, along the banks of Idaho's Payette River. Eager to finish the raft he's been building, he enlists the help of his older cousin Jerry. The boys try to keep their project a secret from Dennis Leeper, hangdog son of Arlie, the Wests' menacing, impoverished neighbor, but when the raft is finally launched, there are three of them aboard. The swift-flowing (and off-limits) central current of the river proves irresistible to daredevil Jerry, and events take a tragic turn. The story's strong vein of nostalgia and coming-of-age theme bring to mind Stephen King's Stand by Me, and although the leisurely pace at times borders on sluggish, Woods's descriptions can be eloquent: "For a long time, the thunder echoed out of the canyon above the sawmill, up where the river ran wild, a perfect partner with the storm." The first-time author also shows a sharp eye for character, from his thumbnail sketches to the broader narrative arc that traces Jamie's growth. Even if the momentum suffers as Jamie reckons with the consequences of the rafting disaster, his convincing development from feckless adolescence to responsible manhood testifies to this author's promise. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
Fourteen-year-old Jamie West and his cousin Jerry, nearly sixteen, are determined to make the most of their final weeks of summer vacation. Their enjoyment is marred by the presence of Dennis Leeper, an awkward outsider from a disliked family who hangs about pathetically hoping for acceptance. The boys, who live in a rural valley along the banks of Idaho's Payette River, construct a raft, planning to float along a calm section of the river close to shore and sheltered by a logjam. Despite some misgivings, Jamie's father allows the boys to proceed, with strict safety rules to prevent the raft's being swept into the perilous main current. Nevertheless, the raft strays into danger and tragedy ensues. A little more than halfway through the novel, the book resembles such survival stories as Gary Paulsen's Hatchet (Macmillan, 1986/VOYA February 1988) and The River (Doubleday, 1991/VOYA August 1991). The latter half of this strong debut novel, however, takes some surprising turns as survivors of the mishap and other members of the community are forced to reconsider comfortable assumptions. The title's meaning becomes clear as Jamie struggles with moral dilemmas in the aftermath of tragedy. A complex and equivocal kind of social heroism proves as valuable as the heroism of physical bravery. Although the story takes place in 1957, the rural setting is almost timeless. What begins as a tale of hazardous adventure evolves into a parable of social ethics, dramatizing the meaning of family and community, the harm caused by marginalization of unpopular residents, and the weighing of difficult choices when none are painless. A good choice for assigned reading, this novel is especially recommended forcollections serving small town and rural youth. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Knopf, 192p,
— Walter Hogan
KLIATT
Fourteen-year-old Jamie West lives on a 17-acre farm near the Payette River in Idaho. He loves summer and has about 18 days left to enjoy it. He and his cousin Jerry, 16, have been working on a raft—a project his mother and father are not keen about. When his dad asks him to include a neighbor boy, Dennis Leeper, in the project, Jamie and Jerry are aghast. Dennis is the target of all the bullies in town and Jamie is not thrilled to have him help. With the raft attached with a rope to the shore, the boys make several trips, getting farther and farther down the river. Suddenly the rope breaks and the boys are swept downriver toward the falls. Jerry falls off first and manages to swim to shore. Dennis and Jamie are thrown over the falls. Jamie is rescued, but Dennis drowns. When Dennis' father threatens harm to Jamie's family, Jamie makes a decision—a decision that makes Dennis a hero and him a liar. A fast-paced story with good characterization. Reluctant readers in high school will enjoy it as well as junior high readers. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Random House, Dell Yearling, 215p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Barbara McKee
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-In the summer of '57 in rural Idaho, Jamie, 14, and his older cousin Jerry finish building a raft intended to provide fun and relaxation in the last days before school begins. Poor, unathletic, and motherless, Jamie's neighbor Dennis Leeper is challenged at every turn by merciless Jerry and taunted with the name "Denise." Doing his best to fit in, Dennis contributes a good idea for completing the raft and is begrudgingly accepted. Jamie's parents are wary of the project, warning the boys about the dangers of the fast-moving Payette River. Agreeing to stay within the log jam with a safety rope, the boys launch the raft but after a long day of swimming, they carelessly venture out further and are swept away by the current. Dennis drowns in the accident and his father angrily blames Jamie and his parents, threatening revenge. Jamie stands up at the funeral and tells everyone that Dennis was a hero who sacrificed his life to save him. Jamie's untruth is meant to protect his own family while giving respect to the Leepers. This is the real climax of the story and the consequences of Jamie's lie play out suspensefully in this page-turning drama. The author deftly handles a convincing adventure with emotional depth and tenderness toward his characters. There's lots of substance here, particularly for fans of Marion Dane Bauer's On My Honor (Clarion, 1986) or Eve Bunting's Blackwater (HarperCollins, 1999).-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"It was dumb, and I'm sorry," Jamie West says after a near-disaster. He had tried to burn the weeds around his garden and, instead, almost burned the surrounding fields, hillside, and pigpen fence. Thus the author establishes the narrator's character in the first chapter. By the end, when Jamie says, "I had to wonder what kind of boy I'd become," we have seen a transformation in Jamie into a new boy even he doesn't recognize. He and his cousin Jerry build a raft on a river his parents worry about, and given the title, cover art, and foreshadowing in the story, readers know the river will be the agent of transformation in this stirring tale. Jamie's father tells the boys they are not to be Tom and Huck adventuring on the Mississippi. They must always be anchored to a rope and must never go floating off down the river. Since Jamie is not a strong swimmer and the river has two major dams downstream, the boys are not eager to disobey the father's admonitions. However, it's clear from the beginning, something will occur on that river. An accident does happen, tragedy strikes, and consequences result. The author mars an otherwise good story by the folksy voice he gives the narrator, who spouts one corny expression after another: "I was sure you could've hid Arlie's brain in a gnat's hind end with room to spare"; "I'd rather shampoo a porcupine." They don't ring true in the mouth of a 14-year-old boy, and they distract the reader. Curiously, the folksy voice is mostly dropped later in the story as the plot gets rolling. All in all, this is a good story with much excitement, a satisfying conclusion, and some moral weight. It ought to attract many readers, particularly the Gary Paulsen crowd.(Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375806124
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 3/12/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 800L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

This is Ron Woods' first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

At the time, I had no way of knowing all that my plan would set in motion.

The problem was, I was behind in my weeding. And tired of it, too. So, leaning on my hoe, cursing the heat, looking at the river, and wishing the raft was finished so I could float away from this boring garden, I'd come up with a plan. A dandy.

I'd worked pretty hard most of the summer, wearing last spring's new hoe handle smooth and dark like an old saddle—even darker than my summer-brown skin. But I hadn't kept up very well lately, and now the weeds were winning. I didn't like that.

The instant the idea hit me, I cried, "Ha-e-e-e-ah!" in a fierce but muted shout, my neck cords taut like I'd once seen a movie Judo warrior do as he struck an enemy across the neck and pitched him headlong into the sea. I vaulted into the air and brought my hoe down in a savage chop, sending the nearest button weed to simultaneous death and burial in an explosion of dust. The hoe dropped to the ground like a broken spear as I headed to the granary for the matches.

The squeaky hinges on the yard gate startled Keno awake from his shady afternoon nap, and he gave me one of his barks with a question mark on it.

"Shhhhh," I said. "Be quiet, black buzzard." I didn't want Mom or my little sister, Marie, to know what I was up to just yet. Keno put his head back down, not because of my command but for lack of interest. I routinely dragged the sprinkler to a new spot on the grass as I went around the house.

I got the matches and a shovel. Then, because I couldn't resist, I detoured around behind the granary for a glance at my half-finished raft on the river's edge, aproject still of less beauty than promise.

Over two or three summers I'd gathered materials—old boards from Dad's leftover jobs around the place and small logs from the river. After wiring and nailing some of these scraps together, I had a raft that looked pretty good on the ground. But in the water it wasn't to be trusted, and I wasn't about to risk my life on it until it floated better than it did now.

Fortunately, my cousin Jerry would show up tomorrow to spend a week with me. Our main task would be the raft—and that would help a lot.

I was determined that another summer wasn't going to end before that raft got on the river. But we had to hurry. School would start in just eighteen days, and that fact hung over me like a judgment.

The tail end of summer can be a hard time. Not that school is so bad, really—especially this fall, when I'd be a freshman and take the twenty-mile bus ride each day to the high school in Emmett. But summer's freedom comes to an end, so it's bittersweet—school's starting is—like something dying and something being born at the same time.

The big Payette River—higher this summer than usual and flowing not thirty feet behind the granary and our other outbuildings—beckoned me through shimmering heat waves. I took a second to skip a rock on its glassy surface. I remembered how in June, when the riverside cottonwoods shed their white fluff, this stretch of quiet water below the logjam looked like a field of snow. Rocks skipped across, it then made a momentary thin trail before the whiteness closed in again, like the river never knew the rock had been there.

I wanted to climb out onto the logjam—a good source of raft materials and one of my favorite places to be, although at times it scared me to death—but that would have to wait, too. Dad always made clear that work came before play. And right now, I was very excited about work—at least about my new idea for weeding.

I hurried back around the house to the garden, which lay east across the dirt road from our house. As I passed Keno, I said to him in my best imitation of Uncle Remus, "You hain't seen nothin' yet, Br'er Dog. Today, you is g'wan to see things the likes of which hain't ne'er been seen in these parts afore."

He paid as little attention as ever when I played my language games with him. He didn't even open one eye. Over his long life with me, Keno had endured my various attempts at dialects and accents, made-up vocabulary, and speaking in unknown tongues—silly things I did when no one else was around. He'd heard my orations on all manner of sense and nonsense—though he didn't seem to much distinguish between the two.

With no wind, it seemed to be an absolutely perfect day for burning. I struck a match and dropped it into the dry grass between the garden and road.

Poof! A circle of flame spread in every direction so fast it startled me. But with my shovel ready, I walked beside the flames as they ate their way rapidly along the five-foot strip. "This is great," I said to myself. It was exciting to see more weeds killed in two minutes than my hoe could chop in two days. Hearing them hiss and crackle as they shriveled into blackened clumps brought me intense pleasure. Fire was a splendid thing.

I didn't fool myself that I was really doing much good. I could only use fire around the outer edges of the garden, and I never hoed there, anyway. But I told myself that this outside strip was where the weeds went to seed, and getting rid of them would help in the long run.

Frenzied grasshoppers flew out of the way of the flames like helicopters evacuating a bombed city. For sure, no more seeds would come from this patch this summer, and no tall weed skeletons would poke their defiant, brittle heads up through the snowdrifts come winter.

I'd have to be careful, though. Years before, when I was about Marie's age, I'd watched a range fire up on Jericho Flats surge before a hot wind like a stampede of crazed buffalo. Dad and dozens of other men chased that fire, dug around it, and threw dirt at it to no avail. Finally, the wind died down enough for Cats and graders to get in front of it and scrape out a firebreak. It took a day and a half to get that fire stopped, and it had covered hundreds of acres and jumped two roads by then. It was both wonderful and scary to watch.


From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.

Copyright 2002 by Ron Woods
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