Scholastic, 2017 193 pages
Maverick's first day of middle school is off to a rocky start. Still reeling from the previous night where he had to care for his addicted mother after she was hit by her drunken boyfriend, he didn't get much sleep and had to rush to school. Once there it becomes obvious that his shabby clothes, disheveled appearance, and short stature will continue to make him a target for Bowen, his arch enemy, and the bully’s soccer cronies. But Maverick has a secret weapon. Underneath his clothes he is wearing a sheriff star that his late father purchased for him before he died and Maverick pledges to be a hero and stand up to the unjust. Trying to confront the bullies to protect a new kid, who is also vertically challenged, lands Maverick in the principal's as well as the nurse’s office, all while annoying the guy he was trying to save. His mother is too incapacitated to pick him up at school, so Maverick calls Aunt Cat instead, the only stable influence in his life, who unfortunately does not get along with his mother. The school year drags on with Maverick continuing to try to fight social wrongs, only to have his plans backfire and remain friendless, misunderstood, and still short. The reemergence of Mom’s bad boyfriend also leaves Maverick feeling helpless and powerless. A public show-down with Bowen and a fire in his home brings Maverick's problems to a head and his whole world explodes. Aunt Cat is there to pick up the pieces and shed some light on who Mav's father really was and a friend comes from an unexpected place, leaving the reader with a sense of hope and satisfaction.
Many kids will relate to Maverick. His world is chaotic and he lacks the control, tools and power to bring order to it. Because he is helpless to save his mother, he tries to save his fellow students by becoming a secret sheriff, his own version of a superhero. Maverick can't save his mother, nor can he save his classmates, who do not appreciate his gestures and are working out issues of their own. Kids living with addicted and dysfunctional parents will identify with this story and perhaps see hope in their own lives. Kids with functional families will maybe be a bit more patient and understanding with their fellow students. Supportive adults in the form of the once-scary vice principal and Aunt Cat come to Maverick's rescue and allow him some help, support, and security. This book is not terribly long and reads quickly, making it a good choice for reluctant readers, particularly boys. Even though the subject matter is serious, Sonnenblick writes humorously and lightly, making what could be laborious story fun and entertaining. Written in the first person, readers are placed directly in the shoes of this secret sheriff and although it’s not always a happy place to be, it is one of growth and redemption. By the story's end Maverick finds out the truth behind his flawed hero, but by this time he is strong and more confident on the inside and no longer needs the badge.