Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has authored dozens of books and she still hits the mark when it comes to middle grade readers. Her latest novel, Going Where It's Dark, is an exploration of both external and internal darkness and it is a page turner!
Thirteen year old Buck stutters and his only friend has moved away, leaving him vulnerable to the town bullies who seem to take great pleasure in making his life miserable. His extended family loves him, but they worry about him too, and can't really understand who he is. The one thing that brings Buck peace and allows him to forget about his stutter is exploring underground caves. He keeps his caving secret and takes risks that even he knows are dangerous. When he befriends a cranky old man who just happens to be a former speech pathologist for the army, Buck starts to gain a little bit of confidence, despite the fact that the bullies are becoming increasingly dangerous. The apex of action in this novel is truly heart-pounding and the two "darknesses" - the internal one that Buck struggles with, and the external one that is all too real - come together in a fairly extreme way.
I love that this book is both a character driven one, and an action/adventure story. Buck and family members are deeply human - flawed, but trying so hard to do the right thing - and their growth feels entirely genuine. At the same time, the action is pretty breath-taking (maybe I found it especially so because the thought of being underground in a narrow cave is entirely terrifying to me). I think the combination will work well for all sorts of middle grade readers.
Once again, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has created an eminently readable and powerful story!