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Hero by Sarah Lean, 196 pp, RL 4

Hero is the newest book from  Sarah Lean. I reviewed A Hundred Horses last year and was impressed and moved by her story of a mysterious girl without a family, another girl mourning the absence of her father and a legend about wild horses. Hero didn't quite grab me right from the start, the way A Hundred Horses did, but once I was hooked I could not put the book down.

Hero begins with narrator Leo Biggs telling us that he can "fit a whole Roman amphitheater in my imagination, and still have loads of room. It's big in there. Much bigger than you would think. I can build a dream, a brilliant dream of anything and be the here I want . . ." Living in an English village built on Roman ruins, Leo sees lions, gladiators and the crowds in the stands of the amphitheater, winning the approval of Jupiter, as he walks down the street of the English village he lives in. Feeling like he has no talents that can win him awards and make his parents proud of him, Leo keeps his imaginings to himself. A turn of events puts Leo in the curious and complicated position of being befriended by Warren Miller, the new boy who is everything Leo is not - popular and confident with a gang of followers. Leo also finds a new friend in his aging neighbor, Grizzly Allen, someone who sees and empathizes with Leo's need to imagine himself a hero.

Unfortunately, Warren and his gang put Leo through a loyalty trial that, unbeknownst to Leo, ends in the destruction of a valuable possession of Grizzly's. When Warren's gang try to chase down and capture Jack Pepper, Grizzly's daughter's dog who has taken a shine to Leo, Leo finally decides to take a stand. Instead ends up in the pond, wet and freezing, carrying the dog who was injured in the process, home in his arms. Without intending to, but also without setting his family straight, Leo lets them believe that he rescued Jack Pepper. Leo soon learns that being thought a hero is nowhere near being a hero and Leo finds himself more isolated and alone than any of his imaginings. When the passing of a meteor that the town has excitedly been anticipating arrives with a destructive sonic book and a sinkhole in the heart of the village, Jack Pepper, who had been obediently waiting for Leo outside a shop, is lost and Leo struggles, feeling buried under his lies, the loss of his best friend, his betrayal of Grizzly and threats from Warren. But it is the thought that he let down the loyal Jack Pepper that weighs on him most.

Hero itself is like a meteor - a streamlined and powerful, heading toward a moment of impact or import. Yet, it is perfectly pitched for its young audience. As an adult reader, I anticipated the worst in moments of suspense, but Lean does not rely on sensational drama, instead finding it in her detailed, well drawn characters and tightly structured plot. Lean brings Hero to a close with an especially wonderful ending that feels genuine and rare.

A Dog Called Homeless

Winner of the 2013 Schneider Family Award, established in 2004 to honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for a child and adolescent audiences. A Dog Called Homeless is the story of Cally, a fifth grader who, a year after her mother's death, has stopped speaking. When her family moves to a new apartment, Cally meets 11-year-old Sam who is deaf and blind. Through her friendship with Sam and the mysterious appearance of a dog, Cally finds her voice.

Source: Review Copy


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