8 May 2020 JUNK BOY by Tony Abbott, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, October 2020, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-06-249125-1


“As I walk this land of broken dreams

I have visions of many things

But happiness is just an illusion

Filled with sadness and confusion”

-- Jimmy Ruffin “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (1967)


The Art Room Door


was wide open

when I passed 

and there was sudden noise

an angry voice

growling and spitting

in there


looking in I saw

two girls and a woman

not a teacher


the woman was leaning over

a skinny girl

with curly brown hair

while the other girl

stood shaking at a table

in the corner

her hands 

on her face

her face pale

as paper


Ever! Ever! Ever! 

was the only word 

I heard clearly


the woman said it

through her teeth

then slapped



the skinny girl on her face

like she would slap a man


it was the opposite

of a sweaty schoolyard fight

this was cold and sharp as icicles


that cold froze up my chest

while the woman spun

past me

her shoes clacking fast

and angry down the hall


I shrank to nothing


the skinny girl go

shaking shaking

to the other one

and hug her

kiss her wet face

and her lips


oh okay


but the other one

pried herself loose

twisting her shoulders back

and brushed by me

down the hall

the other way




I started to say but

shut straight up when 

the skinny girl

wheeled around to me


What are you staring at?





Help me.


help you?

do what?


Take them! Hang them up?

The show’s next week!


this skinny girl

had dark short hair

in a mess of curls

a frayed T-shirt

almost off one shoulder

and faded jeans

and a sort of face

hard not to look at

and her cheek raw red


are you okay?


but she only looked away

scooping up a pile of big paper

art paper


in her arms

from the corner table


Get the rest. Come on.


get the rest come on


I wanted to ask

what that was all about

the shouting and the slapping

(I got the kissing part)

but already she was

somewhere else in her mind”


Motherless, fifteen-year-old Bobby Lang has been saddled with the nickname “Junk” by the high school bullies. He and his disabled, drunk father live miles off the beaten path, in a leaky shack, surrounded by mountains of junk. Bobby is a struggling kid who does his best to remain invisible at school and at home. Oftentimes, he’s stuck going hungry. 


The verse novel JUNK BOY is the story of Bobby and Rachel, the skinny girl with the dark, curly hair. She can be confusing and bossy as hell, but she’s straight with Bobby, and she gets him to speak. As evidenced by a drawing she does of him, Rachel clearly sees something about Bobby that others miss. Bobby cares about her, too, and jumps whenever she demands that he assist or accompany her. 


The quirky Rachel is an artist with off-the-chart talent. For obvious reasons, she cannot stand her mother, who wants to have her daughter “reformatted.” Rachel hopes to escape her mother and attend a top-notch art school in New York City, where her father now lives.


Bobby’s father and Rachel’s mother play pivotal roles in the story, along with a local priest named Father Percy.


In equal measure sweet and gritty, and containing superb descriptions of setting, this prose poetry novel would be a quick read except that so many passages just beg to be savored and reread.  


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com