Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q. Raúf

Hector, 10-years-old and a middle child, has always been a bully and a prankster. And subsequently spending a lot of time in the principal's office. From the beginning, it's clear that Hector thinks very little of most people, and often does what he does just to annoy them. For example, as the book opens, Hector is about to drop a second rubber snake into the school's lunch soup, and even as the principal warns him not to, Hector defiantly does it anyway, knowing he will be in trouble. He always to derive satisfaction knowing he's ruin something for someone with his pranks. But, for him, it's ok, after all, his friends Will and Katie always think his antics are funny.

On their way home, Will and Katie tease Hector about being slow and getting caught. Angered by the teasing, Hector decides to show them how wrong they are. Seeing a homeless man asleep on a bench next to his trolley full of what appears to be trash, Hector decides to steal the hat the old man always wears. But when he wakes up and catches at them, they run off with the hat. 

Angry at the world, Hector decides to run off with the homeless man's trolley after school the next day. But the trolley quickly gains momentum and when Hector loses control, the trolley lands in the lake and sinks. Unfortunately, Mei-Li, the smartest girl in Hector's class, witnesses the whole thing, as does a woman walking her dog. Even though his friends think the cruel stunt is great, Hector can't celebrate - his plan went wrong, and that had never happened before. 

Meanwhile, at home, Hector learns his father is working on a new film about homeless people. And also that someone has been stealing statues and framing the homeless by leaving special marks that only they would understand. 

Skateboarding around Piccadilly Circus with a friend on afternoon, Hector decides to stay longer by himself, when his sees the homeless man, whose trolley he'd sunk and whose name he has learned is Thomas, suddenly appear and break into a run. Naturally, when another statue goes missing, Hector is convinced it's Thomas doing it, and decides to find him and turn him over to the police. And to do that, he needs to enlist the help of Mei-Li, but will she help someone who she clearly does not like? And together can Mei-Li and Thomas help Hector overcome his need to be bad?

There's a lot going on in this novel as Raúf tackles themes of bullying, homelessness, behavior, family dynamics, and a mystery. But Raúf is such a adept writer that none of these themes overwhelms the others, and never blurr Hector's selfish, cruel behavior. In fact, they all contribute to his redemption in such a believable way that it all happens almost unconsciously, for the reader and for Hector. And all the while, events inform reader and Hector of what it is like to live rough, to live where you aren't wanted, to feel the consequences of another person's cruel prank. 

Hector is a most unlikable protagonist, but then readers see his family's dynamics and the things he does are almost understandable in his need to get some attention his way. And while you may feel some empathy, it only lasts momentarily, as he commences his bad acts again. But, Hector is a boy who is and does deserve redemption. A clever artist who needs his talents redirected. 

I find that I am becoming quite a fan of Raúf. Her writing is refreshingly breezy and pulls the reader in immediately and compels them to stay to the end, to see what will become of her protagonists. Back matter consists of information about bullying and where to find information and resources about dealing with issues of bullying, and well as information about homelessness and where to find information. She has also included The Homeless Code, which may be different in Britain that in the US, symbols used by thieves, and an Author's Note. 

On a personal note, my grandmother went to Berea College in Kentucky and studied home economics. She made really great biscuits, and during the depression, despite having to feed six kids on a minister's salary, my grandmother got up every morning and made dozens and dozens of biscuits and lots of coffee to give to the homeless men who always stopped at their house. The house, my mother said, was marked showing that "a good woman lives here." 

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


  1. Not many books are written from a bully's perspective. Glad you enjoyed this one even though Hector started out as an unlikeable character.

  2. This sounds like a rare book where you get to discover the background of what makes a bully. Although I usually have to bond with the MC I think I'd like this one. Thanks for featuring your review on MMGM. Also...interesting sidelight about your grandmother!

  3. This sounds like an intriguing book. It's tricky to create a likable/unlikeable protagonist!

  4. I love that this was written from the bully's perspective. Appreciated your review.

  5. This book intrigues me because the main character sounds so unlikeable but sounds like they will grow on us in the end.

    I love that our grandmother did that. What an amazing person! :)

  6. Interesting idea to write from the bully's perspective. It sounds like there is a LOT going on in this book. Thanks for telling me about it. Maybe I will check it out.

  7. This sounds really good! I love redemption stories! Great story about your grandmother too!


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