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Swear to Howdy


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About the Author

Wendelin Van Draanen is the author of many beloved and award-winning books. For middle graders, she's written Swear to Howdy and the Sammy Keyes mystery series. For teens and tweens, there's Flipped, The Running Dream, Confessions of a Serial Kisser, and Runaway. And for younger readers, check out the Shredderman quartet and the Gecko and Sticky series. Wendelin Van Draanen lives in Central California with her husband and two sons. Find her on the Web at or on Twitter at @WendelinVanD.


Gr 5-8-Van Draanen couches valuable lessons in an odd mix of humor and angst in this unusual and disturbing book. When Russell meets Joey, he finds himself with an immediate and trouble-bound friend. In old-fashioned country-boy humor, the two get into a variety of scrapes including putting a frog into Joey's sister's underwear drawer and buying replacement fish to prevent Joey's drunken, abusive father from finding out the fish have died. Each time, they seal the pact of silence by cutting their fingers and mixing their blood (not a good idea). But when one stunt goes horribly wrong and Joey's sister dies, Russell has to decide whether to keep his pact or to tell what has happened. The story reads like a series of episodes rather than a cohesive whole, and time seems elastic, moving quickly and slowly in alternate bursts. Once the boys' prank results in tragedy, everything speeds up, rushing through months, and distancing readers, before coming to a somewhat inevitable conclusion. While the fully realized characters are certainly colorful, and the story is a quick read, the sharp turn from simple humor to the horror of guilt and death cause the book to lend itself more to group discussion than to general pleasure reading.-Amy Lilien-Harper, The Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Van Draanen's (Flipped; the Sammy Keyes novels) trenchant tale introduces two best friends who are constantly making pacts-hammering their fists, trading blood and pledging secrecy: "I swear to howdy, if you tell a soul...." When narrator Rusty's family moves in next door to Joey's family, the middle schoolers become inseparable; says Rusty, "I had more fun in that single summer than I'd had in my entire life combined." Rusty's idea of "fun" won't be shared by everyone. For example, Joey is swimming as he teaches Rusty how to "make righteous farts" on command, a fish grabs onto Joey's "privates," and Joey avenges himself by frying the fish "to a crisp" and eating it. The boys put bugs in the sodas that their uppity older sisters are selling at a baseball game, costing the girls their jobs. Gradually the mood grows darker. Hoping to avoid a "switchin' " by his abusive, alcoholic father, Joey tries to keep the family goldfish alive, and surreptitiously purchases a string of replacements when fish after fish dies. And when Joey's father hires the boys to shoot some pesky squirrels, Joey mistakenly kills the man's beloved cat-an accident Rusty joins him in concealing. But the friends' secret-keeping skills are put to the ultimate test when a seemingly innocent joke results in tragedy. While the ending is overly tidy, the book's sympathetic protagonists, convincing colloquial dialogue and poignant conflicts will likely leave an impression on young readers. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Van Draanen deftly hooks readers with her very first sentence and keeps their attention with a series of hilarious stunts right up to the shocking climax. A deceptively simple narrative, funny at the outset but realistic in its consideration of some very serious issues."--Booklist, Starred Review

"Triumph and tragedy mix in a compelling country tale of boys being boys."--Kirkus Reviews "A poignant, thought-provoking novel that will strike a chord with young readers hooked by the boyish antics of the early chapters, later to be emotionally drawn to the honest portrayal of characters struggling with the consequences that follow every action."--Midwest Book Review

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