Review: Bringing Me Back by Beth Vrabel
Noah is not having a good year.
His mom is in prison, he’s living with his mom’s boyfriend—who he’s sure is just waiting until his mother’s six month sentence is up to kick him out—and he’s officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It’s Noah’s fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.
One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck—she’s wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she’s always alone.
Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother’s phone calls from jail, he can’t ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause—just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.
But rescuing the bear means tackling his past—and present—head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?
Bringing Me Back is the latest contemporary middle grade title from children’s author Beth Vrabel. Having read and enjoyed Vrabel’s well-received and well-reviewed Pack of Dorks series, A Blind Guide to Stinkville and A Blind Guide to Normal, I was looking forward to Vrabel’s newest children’s title immensely.
In Bringing Me Back, we follow the first-person narrative of middle schooler Noah Brickle. Noah, as we learn, is going through a very difficult time. His mom is serving time in prison, he’s become a social pariah at school- almost entirely without any friendly face- and is now under the guardianship of his mom’s boyfriend Jeff. In just a short span of time, Noah’s world has gone from pretty great- having a best friend, playing football at school, and having his mom and Jeff in a stable and good relationship- to just about everything being broken. Readers learn about Noah’s mom’s struggle with alcohol and how one night of relapse- and a dangerous football accident caused by Noah the day after- changed his world. On top of everything Noah is experiencing at home and at school, he also becomes fixated with a lone bear cub seen around the perimeters of the school. Soon Noah becomes determined to save the life of the young bear, especially when the bear is spotted with a bucket stuck on its head and looks to be growing frail. As the prison release date of Noah’s mom grows closer, Noah finds himself at a head with emotions: his remorse for the accident he caused; complicated feelings for his mom and the damage she caused; his growing feelings for his new friend Rina; with how much Jeff really means to him; and for how far he’s willing to go (and why) to save the life of a dying bear cub.
Noah is a terrifically written, interesting young narrator: complicated, open, hurting, and struggling to keep his head above water. The course of his relationships with two supporting characters- his one new and surprising school friend Rina and now-guardian Jeff- are so well-done and at different turns, emotional and heart-wrenching. Vrabel gets the voice of young protagonists spot on and writes them brilliantly; I think Bringing Me Back, with its well-drawn cast of main characters and excellent story, is the strongest of her novels so far. Overall, a strong, beautifully written, affecting middle grade title, with wonderfully drawn characters set in a unique story. Readers who have enjoyed Beth Vrabel’s previous children’s titles or readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Leslie Connor, Kate Messner, or Sarah Weeks might especially enjoy Vrabel’s latest.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.