Pearsall, Shelley. The Seventh Most Important Thing.
September 8th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Arthur, upset with his father's death in 1963, throws a brick at the Junk Man who is wearing his father's hat, breaking the man's arm. He is sent to juvenile detention, but at his sentencing the Junk Man, James Hampton, requests that since he can't work with his arm broken, Arthur should help him out. When Arthur shows up at Hampton's garage (which he can find only with the help of a nearby tattoo parlor owner, Groovy Jim), he finds a note listing seven things he is supposed to collect and bring back. Foil, light bulbs, wood, mirrors-- Arthur can't imagine what use any of these things would be, so he brings back things that interest him, like a lamp and a toaster. Hampton complains to Arthur's probation officer that he wasn't following directions exactly, but doesn't say why he needs those particular things. Arthur is struggling at school and home as well. His mother is trying to make ends meet as a waitress, and eventually gets a job as a receptionist at a dentist's office. At school, he is accused of bullying a boy, Squeak, when he tries to rescue him from being put in a trash can. The boys become friends, and Squeak helps Arthur with collecting things. When Hampton collapses in his studio, Arthur gets him help, and finds out for what all of the objects he is collecting are needed, as well as more information about Hampton. When Arthur is no longer able to help Mr. Hampton, he tries to save the artwork in progress with the help of Groovy Jim, his parole officer, and other unexpected allies.
Strengths: This was intriguing and readable even though there wasn't a lot of action. Arthur was a sympathetic character, and I kept turning the pages, waiting to see what would happen next. There are some twists to the plot that I don't want to give away but were very interesting. I enjoyed reading the story.
Weaknesses: I had hoped that it would address the issue of race in the 1960s, since Hampton is black and Arthur is white, but that is only brought up briefly at the sentencing. The details about the 1963 setting are weak, so I wondered why the story had a historical setting. However, this is based on a real person and a real work of art. There are notes at the back that explain the real story of James Hampton, and also what portions of the story are real and which were fictitious.
What I really thought: While I liked this, it was a bit confusing. This is the sort of book that students will enjoy best if they study the book in class or have someone help them through the story a bit. Even showing them the web site of the artwork would help.