Sunday, February 23, 2020

MMGM: We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

It isn't easy to set a book on fire, but if you are the owner of a piece of camping equipment called a Survival 4000 Fire Striker with Compass and Whistle, you just might be able to accomplish your mission. At least, that's what Hank Hudson, a sensitive fourth grader, thought when he tried to burn the 495 page book about the Nazis hunting down a young boy that his teacher was reading to the class, a book that he found particularly sad and upsetting.

Hank, who is autistic, generally likes spending his time alone, thinking about and collecting rocks for his vast collection, from which he selects three each day to keep in his pocket and help him through the day. Returning to school after a three day suspension for trying to burn the book, Hank is approached by Maisie Huang, a girl in his class who was totally impressed by Hank's act of rebelliousness. Maisie has decided that he has 'the meatballs' to help her accomplish her own bold-as-brass mission. And she has just the thing needed to get Hank interested - both her parents are geologists and there are lots of rocks at her house.

Maisie's mission is simple - after freeing her neighbor's pit bill Booler, Hank will take him and give him a good home. Booler has epilepsy and his owner, Mr. Jorgensen, keeps him outside and tied to a tree while his two other dogs have free run of the house and yard. Maisie thinks this is cruel and, since Mr. Jorgensen won't let her have the dog, she's devised a plan to free Booler, so he can be Hank's dog, instead.

Little by little, Hank and Maisie become friends, much to the delight of Hank's parents. Maisie is, after all, his first friend and they spend lots of time together acting out The Jungle Book, Hank's favorite movie, while hanging around with Booler in his yard, and sometimes looking for rocks together in the schoolyard. But Maisie can be a strong, determined, even manipulative personality, who is relentless in her need to save Booler. Hank, on the other hand, is quiet and generally content with his rocks. But he does feel Maisie's manipulation and after their first attempt at saving Booler fails, along with Hank's first attempt at lying, he has a complete meltdown and is asked to consider whether she is really a good friend. Yes,  Hank decides, she is. But that doesn't mean the two friends have given up on Booler, not by any stretch of the imagination.

We Could Be Heroes is told in the third person from Hank's point of view, which is an interesting perspective. Interesting because the story isn't about autism so much as it is about how Hank sees, experiences, and navigates the world as a person on the spectrum. I came away with a better understanding of autism, and particularly, autistic meltdowns and I think Finnegan made it very accessible for young readers to understand, as well. For example, Finnegan gave Hank the perfect geological description for the way his meltdowns might feel like to him: A'a is a Hawaiian word that describes the way the surface and bottom layers of lava cool at different rates after a volcanic eruption. With a meltdown, Hank experiences his body as out of sync. On the surface, he feels punctured and bruised by the way sounds, textures, colors, smells poke at him, while inside, he feels dense, heavy and immovable. Later, she describes how Hank's mother helps him regain a sense of evenness after a meltdown.

I have to admit I really didn't like Maisie at first for the same reason Hank is somewhat leery of her. But as Hank and Maisie's friendship begins to really solidify, I began to see her differently, so that by the time Maisie's truth finally comes out, I felt real empathy for her.

One thing I really liked in this book is that Hank's family is intact, that his parents marriage didn't end because of his autism, and that both parents are involved, understanding and, most importantly, patient.

We Could Be Heroes is at times very serious story, that deals with themes like autism, epilepsy, bullying, empathy, and friendships (both age appropriate and intergenerational), but it not one without humor and some very delicious sounding cookies. This is Margaret Finnegan's debut middle grade novel and it is a well-crafted open and honest look at what it means to be different without being less and living one's authentic truth. And definitely not to be missed.

You can find an extensive and very useful Discussion Guide for We Could Be Heroes HERE

Meet the Author:
Margaret Finnegan's work has appeared in FamilyFun, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. You can connect with her at and 
on Twitter @FinneganBegin and
Instagram  @finneganbegin

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was gratefully received from Barb at Blue Slip Media

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. Nice to see this book getting some MMGM love today! I'm impressed that "Hank's family is intact, that his parents marriage didn't end because of his autism, and that both parents are involved, understanding and, most importantly, patient." Great review!

  2. After reading this book myself the last month, I agree with all of your critique points. Such an informative, inspiring story with touches of humor. And I can't say enough good things about the parents. Thanks for featuring on MMGM

  3. This sounds good. I will have to check it out!

  4. Two reviews of the same book today -- it must be good. I like the characters and their friendship and story really sounds inspiring! And, I love to see kids with autism showing their abilities.

  5. You and Greg seem to have the same taste. Thanks for your thoughts. I will be looking for this one.


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