When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

by: 
Kimberly Willis Holt

Toby is a thirteen year old, growing up in the small town of Antler, Texas, when something interesting comes to town: it's a road show, featuring the "fattest boy in the world." The whole town lines up to see Zachary Beaver, a 600 lb. teenager, but only Toby and his best friend Cal stick around.  They want to know something about Zachary.  The book follows their interactions with Zachary, as their relationship changes from voyeuristic curiosity to genuine friendship -- and lets us into the lives of Toby, Cal, and finally Zachary.  In a single summer, one joins the boys through a number of life events, including Toby's mom leaving, Cal's brother getting killed while serving in Vietnam, and Toby learning the secret history of his father and his family.  Throughout the book, you can feel both how kids could feel crushed by their small town, and how they lean on each other for support and friendship -- enjoying the small everyday joys of life.  Cal and Toby are both imperfect, but relatable characters and Zachary is portrayed very realistically: he's a boy who is paraded around as a freak, so while he's desperately for friendship, he's far to proud to show it.  The cast of supporting characters in the book, from beautiful Scarlett who yearns to leave Antler, to draft-dodging Ferris, to proud-but-poor Juan are depicted with heart, and you end the book feeling like you really understand the ins and outs of this small, troubled town. 

Reading Level: 
Heads up - topics in this book that might require further discussion: 
Death of a parent/close family member
War
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