Little, Brown, 2016 340 pages
Our book begins with seventh-grader Wayne sharing cheeseburgers with his favorite uncle, who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan. Wayne is a fact-junkie. He loves to learn interesting facts about EVERYTHING and shares them constantly to fill any white space or awkwardness in his life. Wayne and his small family are devastated when news comes of his uncle's death a short time later. On the way home from Arlington Cemetery Wayne and his mother are in a terrible airplane crash.The flag memorializing his uncle is lost in the crash, as is Wayne's voice. Grandpa, a retired military curmudgeon, moves in to help out. Without a voice Wayne struggles to continue his already strained relationship with his father, a romance with a girl he feels is too pretty for him, and hard to please Grandpa. Through speech therapy Wayne makes a new friend named Denny, who has such a hardcore stutter that he must communicate by singing. Eventually Wayne finds his voice, as well as a relationship and understanding with his grandfather and the ability to stand up to his bullying father. Things begin to look up, as even Mom has found a new love. Then Wayne is given another piece of bad news, just when his life is starting to get back to normal. Can he cope with yet another loss? And will he ever be able to locate his uncle's missing flag?
This book is a real roller coaster of a ride. I fell in love with Wayne and was riveted by his story and spirit. I know awkward, fact kids like Wayne and felt that Harrington nailed the character beautifully. Actually, I liked all of the characters and felt that they were all fully developed and experienced growth throughout the book. The plot moved along nicely, adding twists and turns along the way. Mom's new love comes as an interesting surprise. We see the sad twist coming, much as Wayne does, but he chooses to ignore for as long as he can, and once it is truly revealed it still comes as a punch to the gut. Wayne becomes obsessed with locating the missing flag and he and his grandfather work together to locate it. By book's end the flag is never found, but the reader will not feel cheated. By the time you get to the end of the book, so much has happened and Wayne has grown up so much, that the importance of locating the flag has lessened. Harrington shows her respect for the military within the pages of this story and has, in fact, dedicated to the book to her veteran father and grandfather, as well as soldiers everywhere. Many themes are explored including excepting people who are different, what it means to be a man, the true definition of bravery, the importance of behaving respectfuly and with integrity, and what it means to be a good friend. This book has a lot to say, yet does not feel agenda driven. Readers will enjoy the time they spend with Wayne and Denny. A word of warning: don't read this book on a plane or give this story to readers already exhibiting a fear of flying. They will never get on an airplane again.