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
Straysby Ron Koertge
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
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.
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.
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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