Travis misses his dog, Rosco, who has been Travis’ family since his parents died when he was three. But Rosco is gone, and Travis and his grandfather had to leave their beloved home in the woods and move to a town where Grandpa could get a job and attend his AA meetings. On the first day of school, an offhand act of kindness on Travis’ part attracts the attention of the outspoken Velveeta, who sits with him at lunch and tries her obstreperous best to draw him out. Velveeta has a grief of her own, however, as her elderly neighbor, who had been like a grandfather to her and softened the hard edges of her life with her alcoholic mother, has passed away. She senses in Travis a kindred spirit, even though neither one talks about what they are feeling, and their unaffected friendship attracts a third outsider to their group, a smart, undersized kid named Bradley. Soon, one of Travis’ teachers [End Page 106] discovers he can’t read and persuades him to give it one more chance. Without a trace of sentimentality, Schmatz configures her little cast of characters into a genuinely moving story of growing compassion and interdependence, as Travis helps Bradley cope with bullies, Velveeta and Travis work out their mutual crush, Grandpa confesses to his role in Rosco’s disappearance, and Travis learns to read with the help of Velveeta and his teacher. The intertextual reference to Zusak’s The Book Thief (BCCB 5/06) is an effective one on multiple levels; through that title, Velveeta learns what’s going on with Travis as he circles words in his book, and the emotional undercurrent of love and community between people shadowed by loss is remarkably similar between that very big book and this very small one. Readers seeking emotional warmth, congenial humor, and an affirmation of forgiveness and friendship will cozy up to these characters.