Books by State: Arizona

“Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott, one of the best racers in Nowhere, comes to his rescue—but in return she has to give Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus agrees to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine, joined by his old friends Jessie Navarro and Matthew Dufort, and Rossi herself. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving everything from cave-ins to mountain lions, they bond over shared stories of how hard life in Nowhere is—and they realize this adventure just may be their way out.” – Amazon’s summary

A man who runs a convenience shop/ostrich farm (and is the self appointed mayor) who asks to always be referred to as Mayor Handsome, bullies who push your face into cactus, rattlesnakes, dirt bike racing, an abandoned gold mine; honestly, what could be more Arizona than this?

I think this is an excellent book for middle schoolers to read. It’s got adventure and danger, but it has an important message for young people as well. We become so focused on ourselves, our life, our struggles, that we forget every single person also has a story of their own. You can’t make assumptions about anyone without taking the time to sit down with them and learn about their life and their mind. Gus’s assumptions about his ragtag group are each flipped on its head and give Gus new perspectives on these old and new friends as well as his own life.

Matthew Dufort, being sort of a crony to the bully of the story – Bo Taylor, tries at one point to explain to the group that Bo has a really hard life. While this doesn’t excuse all of Bo’s insanely hateful behaviors, it does explain them. The scene in question got me thinking, bullies target people who seem weak because they see themselves in that person and hate them for it. Maybe they simply hate seeing their weaknesses mirrored back to them, but I think it could even be that the person brings a realization that the bully isn’t even unique in their suffering – that the are not the only ones who have traumatic lives. Maybe it is simply that the bully lives in pain so wants other people to live in pain too, but I think they can see in the people they target that they do already live in pain. Perhaps, in the bully’s mind, that diminishes their suffering so they lash out at that person.

Overall, I thought this was an amusing, heart-felt, and thoughtful story. I don’t believe any book is completely below a person’s reading level. High schoolers and even adults can still read and enjoy a middle school grade level book, in my personal opinion. I think this is a great choice if you are looking for a cute, quick read.

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