Booklist Online Exclusive: May 16, 2014


Immortal Max.

Clifton, Lutricia (Author)

Apr 2014. 176 p. Holiday, hardcover, $16.95. (9780823430413).


Sam dreams of a purebred puppy—not the shaggy, smelly, old Max his sister rescued from the shelter, but a real dog. To earn money, he begins walking designer dogs in CountryWood, the new gated community

outside his small town. Status, wealth, and distance combine to separate townies from “burbies,” and much of the book looks at wealth, happiness, and contentment. Sammy has a lot, once he starts looking at it right: a loving, hardworking family; a growing circle of friends; and a faithful dog. Subplots weave through the story: a Little Princess Beauty Pageant, his sister’s nearing departure for college, his overweight neighbor’s attempts to fit in with CountryWood girls, and, especially, the bullying from Justin, a rich boy in the gated community who tries to get Sam fired, with tragic results. Clifton (Freaky Fast Frankie Joe, 2012) creates a diverse cast of strongly drawn multicultural characters without being overly heavy-handed. This naturally developing story is a good choice for dog lovers and anyone looking over the fence at a life that seems better.


— Suzanne Harold


Good Reads with Rona, July 2, 2014

Middle school can be such a tumultuous time. The difficulties are only compounded when your dad dies, your mom is trying to make ends meet with three children, (one of whom is about to go to college), and wealthy city kids are infiltrating your world and turning your town into the haves and have nots. Thank goodness it’s summer, right?

In Immortal Max by Lutricia Clifton, (Holiday House, 2014, $16.95, Ages 8-12), Sam, a twelve-year-old boy, gets a summer job walking dogs in a gated community so he can save money and buy a purebred, sable colored German Shepherd puppy – the dog of his dreams. The only problem is that Sam already has a dog. Max is a drooling, smelly, supposedly on his last legs mutt, who Sam’s mother thinks will not survive a playful puppy. To top things off, the school bully and Sam’s arch enemy, Justin, will stop at nothing to foil Sam’s plan, including trying to get him fired. It doesn’t help matters that he lives in the wealthy community where Sam will be walking the dogs.

Clifton captures the emotions of the reader with her ability to bring to life, not only the main characters, but the minor players in this tender, though sometimes intense, middle grade novel. Watching Sam grow and develop from a boy with a goal to a young man who has his priorities straight -well, let’s just say, I teared up more than once.

If you’re looking for a book with diverse characters, (Lee, Patel, Wysocki, and Pierce. cheerleaders, geeks, etc.) look no further. This book has them all. As in real life, none of the characters are all good or all bad, they’re perfectly imperfect humans trying to make it through life while having a little fun in the process.

Oh, and then there’s Max. Old, faithful, not-so-scruffy after all, Immortal Max. Before you even open the book, notice how Chris Sheban’s muted gray, green, and gold jacket art focuses on Max’s perspective. In this middle grade story told from the aging dog’s point of view, Sam has always been and always will be the boy of Max’s dreams, but will Sam get the dog of his dreams? You’ll have to read the book to find out. (Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher)

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KIRKUS REVIEWS assigns Freaky Fast Frankie Joe a STAR, denoting a book of remarkable merit, March 15, 2012


While his mom is in jail, Frankie Joe tries to adjust to living with his newly surfaced father, FJ, his stepmother and “the four legitimate Huckaby sons.”

The brothers tease Frankie Joe because, academically, he is “freaky slow,” which is at odds with how fast he is when he runs or bikes. The tension and the cast of characters are well-developed, especially Frankie Joe, who is believably resistant to the new setting and the rules of the house. Speaking in the first-person, Frankie Joe shows spunk, spinning the taunt into a positive when he launches Frankie Joe’s Freaky Fast Delivery Service. With his income, he plans his escape back home from Illinois to Texas. But with each day Frankie Joe becomes more integrated into—and essential to—the town and the family, starting with his friendship with another town oddball, elderly Miss Peachcott. She tells Frankie Joe his family history. With this reveal, the author realistically depicts Frankie Joe’s growing doubts about his mother’s decisions. His mother’s final act, abandoning him to FJ, leaves Frankie Joe grief-stricken and depressed but he now has a new understanding of what responsibility and home mean.


The pace in this debut is leisurely, but readers, like the town folk and his newfound family, will be rooting for Frankie Joe. The final scenes soar with hope. (Fiction. 8-12)


BOOKLIST, April 15, 2012


Twelve-year-old Frankie Joe has a lot of new people in his life after his mom lands in jail and he is sent off to Illinois: his father, the four half brothers he is now
forced to live with, and a school full of kids all too ready to label the tall
boy from Texas as a freak. Nevertheless, the hardworking Frankie Joe struggles through it all to emerge as a winning protagonist. At first the unhappy boy plans on using his trustworthy bike to haul himself back to Laredo. But as Frankie Joe starts a deliveryservice in an effort to make money for his secret trip, he gets to know his adopted town. The admiration and trust he finds from its disparate inhabitants(a lonely farmer, an elderly woman concocting cosmetics, a perky classmate)begin to change the gangly boy’s opinions, just as surely as the steady,no-nonsense affection of his father and stepmother. Readers who enjoy graceful, understated humor in their realistic fiction should find this right up their alley—or corn field, as it the case may be.





With his mom in jail for drug possession, Frankie Joe goes to live in Illinois with his father, whom he barely remembers, and his father’s new wife and four sons. None of the boys is happy with this arrangement. To make matters worse, the 12-year-old is placed in fourth grade instead of sixth because he missed too much school the previous year. Eager to escape from this life, Frankie Joe starts a bicycle delivery business to try to save enough money to return to his friends in his Texas trailer park. When his mother gets out of jail and agrees to let his new family adopt him, Frankie Joe has to rethink his plans and come to grips with the fact that she has another life and doesn’t want him with her. Definitions of words the protagonist looks up to educate himself are interspersed throughout this first novel that tugs at readers’ heartstrings. Although Frankie Joe’s amazing adaptation to a stable environment is almost too good to be true, children in blended families, including reluctant readers, will relate to this story.–Kathy Lyday, William Lenoir Middle School, Lenoir, NC

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