Sam Brattle may only be 11, but he has had quite a life already. The recipient of a heart transplant as a baby, Sam's mother left and she has just remarried. Sam and his dad don't get along, and to make matters worse, Sam's best friends are older and wild. In fact, Sam has already acquired quite a list of offences. Luckily for him, the police are old friends of his dad and never press charges. But Sam's luck seems to run out on Christmas Day. After being chased by the police for breaking windows in the condemned railway station, Sam decides to lose them by climbing an evergreen tree in the yard of an unfriendly neighbor. But after the police passed him by, Sam slide down the tree after seeing a monstrous dog in a window, taking a lot of tree and Christmas decorations with him.
Now, Sam's life is about change. Mr. Wells, who lives in the house and is a bit of a recluse, makes Sam an offer he can't refuse - after all, he did cause a lot of expensive property damage. It seems that Nickel Bay is a pretty depressed town, with lots of closed businesses, even Sam's dad is having money trouble with his bakery. And this year, no one out hustling and bustling to get their Christmas shopping done. In the past, a Good Samaritan nicknamed Nickel Bay Nick had secretly left $100 for the town's residents just before Christmas, but this year there was not Nick.
It seems Mr. Wells was actually Nickel Bay Nick and he had broken his leg so he couldn't get around. His proposition to Sam: tell his father he is working off his debt by doing some filing for Mr. Wells. Meantime, Mr. Wells come up with the idea that for the 12 days of Christmas, between December 25th and January 6th, Sam with train and become that year's Nickel Bay Nick. Can such a preposterous idea really work? Maybe.
When I first started to read Nickel Bay Nick, I wasn't too sure I was going to like it. Sam seemed like a really unpleasant character and since the story is told in his voice, all the reader has is his perspective - not good with an unlikable character. But as I read along, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was really a fun book to read, after all, simply because things are not what they seem to be at first.
Sam is really not a bad kid, but is a misguided one. He has a lot to learn, but this is a coming of age novel, so, yes, he does learn the right lessons that change his life. But it is the process of coming of age that makes this such an interesting book. It is a well written book, with just the right balance of humor and poignancy, and in between that, there's plenty of excitement, especially when Sam goes out at night to deliver his envelopes of money.
As an adult reader, I found bits in this novel a little contrived, maybe there was just too much coincidence, and certainly, with all he has done wrong, there should have been consequences for Sam at some point regardless of past friendships but I know that as a kid reader I wouldn't have minded any of that, and I'm betting kids today won't either.
Nickel Bay Nick is a satisfying novel that not only entertains, but shows us the feel good benefits to helping others. After all, this is a book with a lot of heart - real hearts, transplanted hearts, kind hearts and misguided hearts.
Once again, congratulations on winning the 2014 MG Cybils award.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was bought for my personal library
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Shannon Messenger at Books, Ramblings and Plenty of Shenanigans