The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle. October 12, 2015. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. 288 pages. Ages 10 & up.
Charlie Han believes that everyone has to be good at something. But, no matter what he tries, it always seems to end in disaster, thanks in part to his small size and severe clumsiness. He gets teased and bullied at school along with his friend Sinus, and his irrationally over-protective mother just makes things even worse. Charlie is fourteen years old, yet she still insists on having a baby gate at the top of the stairs, and she makes him ride a tricycle instead of a bicycle!
Then one day Charlie tries skateboarding, and much to his surprise finds that for once his small size, and resulting lower center of gravity, are an advantage and he is actually good at it. However, one day his mother catches him at the local skatepark and humiliates him in front of the other skaters with her over-protectiveness. Later, as a prank, the older skaters lure Charlie back to the park, hold him down, and wrap him in layers of bubble wrap, thus earning him the nickname of "Bubble Wrap Boy". Once again subjected to humiliation at school, Charlie is miserable until his friend Sinus comes up with a plan for redemption.
In the meantime, Charlie accidentally learns of a big family secret about a past tragedy that helps explain his mother's irrational obsession with his safety. Charlie is angry and upset that his parents kept this secret from him, and doesn't understand why they thought he shouldn't know. He comes up with a plan to confront his mother in a way that he hopes will convince her to relax, and let him keep skating.
This story starts out slow, but the pace picks up in the middle, after laying the groundwork for understanding Charlie's life and relationships up to that point. This is a moving, yet entertaining story, that touches on so many things: coming of age, bullying, guilt, family secrets, and triumph. I found the characters to be very relatable and interesting.
I chose to read this book in part because of the words "bubble wrap" in the title; my daughter and I both love popping bubble wrap, and coincidentally she dabbled in skateboarding for a few years when she was younger, so I was familiar with all the terminology and tricks mentioned in the story, though I don't think having skateboard knowledge is necessary to enjoying the story.
I think most tweens and teens could relate to Charlie, with both his conflict with his mother and his difficulties fitting in at school. This story has a little something for almost everyone: a little action, some humor, and drama. I would recommend this to anyone who likes realistic stories dealing with issues that all kids have with families, friends, and middle/high school society.
Other Books By This Author
Phil Earle has written three other young adult novels: Being Billy, Saving Daisy, and Heroic, as well as two books for younger readers, Demolition Dad and Albert and the Garden of Doom.