Strays

Strays

4.4 9
by Ron Koertge
     
 

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Could life as a foster kid lead to unexpected benefits? A teenager's link to animals gives way to human connection in a smart, incisive new novel. Sixteen-year-old Ted O'Connor's parents just died in a fiery car crash, and now he's stuck with a set of semi-psycho foster parents, two foster brothers - Astin, the cocky gearhead, and C.W., the sometimes gangsta - and an… See more details below

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Overview

Could life as a foster kid lead to unexpected benefits? A teenager's link to animals gives way to human connection in a smart, incisive new novel. Sixteen-year-old Ted O'Connor's parents just died in a fiery car crash, and now he's stuck with a set of semi-psycho foster parents, two foster brothers - Astin, the cocky gearhead, and C.W., the sometimes gangsta - and an inner-city high school full of delinquents. He's having pretty much the worst year of his miserable life. Or so he thinks. Is it possible that becoming an orphan is not the worst thing that could have happened to him? Drawing on his trademark wit and sharp insight, master novelist Ron Koertge takes the lead with this smart, surprising story about a boy learning to run with a new pack.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

After his parents die in a car crash, 10th-grader Ted is placed in foster care. He is sent to live with the Rafter family, where he gains two foster brothers: C.W. and Astin. Although his new home is only six miles from where he grew up, it feels light years away from his previous life. Ted's birth parents ran a small pet shop and he often believed they cared more for the animals than they did for him; at his old school, his social awkwardness left him friendless. But while Ted finds the Rafters themselves to be a bit odd (Mrs. Rafter keeps a doll in her bedroom, unable to recover from the loss of a child), his new foster brothers like him, especially Astin, a talented mechanic, who mentors him on being more outgoing and approachable. Ted's attempts to come to terms with both his parents' death and his new life are aided by his ability to communicate with animals, which often serves as a source of comfort. A sparrow encourages him to "think about something else," and a lion at the zoo suggests, "What you need, Theodore, is a pride. If you can get some females to hunt for you, that's all the better." Readers will root for Ted as he learns how to feel comfortable both around other people and in his own skin. Using deft touches of humor and an element of the supernatural, Koertge (Boy Girl Boy) delivers a stirring account of a boy's rise above difficult circumstances. Ages 14-up. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Walter Hogan
Sixteen-year-old Ted O'Connor's uncanny ability to communicate with animals compensates for his difficulties socializing with humans, some of which could be attributed to the aroma of his family's pet-store business-"the girls said I smelled like cat pee." For years, Ted helped his mother find homes for an endless parade of abandoned cats and dogs. But when his parents are killed in a car accident, Ted suddenly finds himself on the inside of the human foster care system, as one of numerous "strays" who are assigned to the homes of strangers until they "age out" of the system at eighteen. Koertge is noted for his honest portrayals of outsiders and underdogs in such novels as Stoner and Spaz (Candlewick, 2002/VOYA April 2002). Here the underdogs are both human and canine, and Ted begins to use his extraordinary rapport with his nonhuman friends to gain self-confidence and move beyond depression. When tough-guy Astin, Ted's foster roommate, takes Ted for a spin on his motorcycle, a poodle's timely warning of a policeman on the next block gives Ted a chance to gain points with Astin. Soon Astin's girlfriend is arranging Ted's social life. Ted protests that he is "busy," but Megan is not having it. "Doing what? Being an orphan? How much time does that take?" Koertge has long been renowned for his witty dialogue, and this novel does not disappoint. The themes of human and animal fostering are skillfully intertwined in this funny, fast-paced celebration of the resilience to survive loss and start anew.
Children's Literature - Christina M. Desai
Teddy is a troubled and unpopular, but sensitive teen. His parents owned a pet shop and took in countless strays; consequently, Ted is more at home with animals than with his peers. However, his parents' sudden death lands Ted in the foster care system. Readers learn about the perils of life in foster care, but the book has less to do with fostering than with the horrors of high school. Ted tries to remain invisible but cannot always escape bullying. He offers readers pithy insights into the power brokering and dominance games that form the staple of high school social politics, comparing them to the dominance contests and mating rituals of the animal kingdom. The title takes on added significance as Ted learns that some of his wealthy classmates are also orphans in effect, as their parents are too preoccupied with their possessions to care for them. There is no great turning point in this novel, but life improves gradually as Ted takes the risk of accepting friendly overtures and trusting his fellow foster care housemates. In scarcely perceptible steps, he begins to come out of hiding and to grow. At the same time, his Dr. Doolittle-like ability to communicate with animals starts to diminish as he makes the choice to connect with his classmates. While there is nothing terribly innovative in this coming-of-age story, it is well-written and believable. Teddy's distinctive and amusing voice will hold the interest of many similarly-challenged readers. Reviewer: Christina M. Desai
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
When Ted's parents are killed in a car crash, he ends up in foster care in Pasadena, CA with creepy Mr. and Mrs. Rafter. He also acquires two foster brothers: Astin, who lives for motorcycles, cars and girls, and C.W., a would-be gangsta. Ted has never found it easy to relate to other people, but he has a real bond with animals; in fact, he can talk with them, and he spends as much time as he can at the zoo. Slowly, however, his foster brothers help Ted make some human connections, and he is even befriended by a girl. No longer a stray, Ted has found a pack to run with at last, and while his special communication with animals falls away, it's replaced by newfound self-confidence. The hopeful ending will lift readers' hearts. This unsentimental but moving portrait of a lost 16-year-old finally finding his way has a realistically gritty inner-city setting, as well as some profanity.
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10
Ted O'Connor, 15, grew up working in his parents' pet store until they died in a car crash and he was sent into foster care. He shares an attic bedroom with Astin, who rides a Harley and is alternately paternal and threatening. The other foster kid, C.W., has his own room because Mr. Rafter "[doesn't] like to mix white and black." Ted isolates himself from social situations, preferring to communicate with animals. These creatures-from stray dogs to caged lions-talk back. The rub is, as Ted begins to trust human relationships, his gift with animals fades. Koertge writes brilliant dialogue; the conversations between Ted and the animals are as nuanced, natural, and believable as those between humans. The characterizations are subtle and swift, especially Wanda, a senior whose parents win the lottery and virtually abandon her. She's unique from her first words on the page. Ted's slow transformation from introverted destitution to tentative but authentic affirmation is well and economically handled. The novel's initially somber mood lifts, deftly and gradually, as Ted grows surer of his place in humanity. His romantic friendship with warm, intelligent Wanda is beautifully realized and revelatory; having chosen one another, they are no longer strays. This is a great choice for reluctant readers, and for animal lovers. Not a word is wasted, and this tight, smoothly plotted, perfectly pitched novel is among the author's best work.
—Johanna LewisCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Sixteen-year-old Ted's new to foster care, but not new to being unwanted. In his old high school, he was bullied, and his now-dead parents cared more about the animals they sold than they ever cared about their own son. At first, his new foster home seems like it will be just another terrible time in Ted's life. Foster-father Mr. Rafter is mildly racist, while Mrs. Rafter likes to breast feed a plastic doll. There's nobody Ted can communicate with, except the animals he's always been able to speak with: dogs, cats, the giraffe at the zoo. But against all of his expectations, Ted starts to make friends with his foster brothers at the Rafter's, and with a few girls at school. Ted's life is far from perfect, but maybe he can rely on someone other than animals at last. The development of Ted, the slightly unreliable narrator-from sullen self-sufficient teen to tentative social animal-is heartwarmingly real, and the light magical touch adds a clever flavor to this appealing coming-of-age story. (Fiction. 13-15)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763662219
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
10/09/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
128,442
Lexile:
650L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

C.W. looks toward the screen door. "I was in this place once where the lady would tie off and shoot up while her old man made us paint the house. And all the other guys did was beat on me."

I look toward the big white front door. "What other guys?"

"This lady is not cooking for two when she can cook for three or four and make more money. That’s how it works, man. Where you been? There’s always other guys."

"Are they ever okay?" I ask.

"This is foster care, man. Nobody’s okay."

_______

STRAYS by Ron Koertge. Copyright © 2007 by Ron Koertge. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

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