Going Where It’s Dark by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Delacorte Press, 336 pages ($16.99). Ages 10 and up.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, winner of the Newbery Medal for “Shiloh,” offers a poignant coming-of-age tale in this beautifully crafted story of a 13-year-old boy struggling to deal with his stutter, the bullies who won’t leave him alone and the well-meaning family members who try to help but seem to only make things worse. Buck Anderson loves to explore caves but the best friend he did his exploring with has moved away, so the discovery of a new cave on an abandoned farm means Buck violates their joint rule: never explore alone. When Buck is underground, he leaves his worries about stuttering behind as he single-mindedly concentrates on finding his way in the dark. The author does a marvelous job describing the wonders of exploring a cave and paints a vivid portrait of this hard-working, working-class household: grandpa and family members running a sawmill, Buck’s mom working at the local diner, his uncle Mel driving a truck, the whole family pitching in on the garden. Then Mel recruits Buck to help a curmudgeonly elderly neighbor around the house, an assignment that takes a completely unexpected turn. Reynolds Naylor notes in the afterword that her late husband was a speech therapist, explaining the wonderful realism in the scenes where Buck works to conquer his fear of stuttering. Buck gets his quiet revenge on the bullies in a most satisfying way as he uses his agility, his small size and his knowledge of caving in the thrilling finale.
– Jean Westmoore