The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of four kids. Virgil Salinas is shy, bullied, and wishes he could get up the courage to talk to the girl he admires, tell the bully to leave him alone, or even just ask his family to stop calling him "Turtle." His only friend is quirky Kaori Tanaka and his grandmother who tells him stories of kids lost and eaten.
Valencia Somerset has no friends either, not after her "friends" decided it was too much trouble to deal with her deafness and dumped her. Now she just has her overbearing mother and her secret dog friend in the woods.
Chet Bullens doesn't think of himself as a bully, he's just living up to his dad's expectations and being the strong kid. Kaori knows what she knows, even if her parents and little sister Gen don't believe she has second sight or psychic abilities.
The four come together one afternoon in the woods when Chet throws Virgil's backpack into an old well. Unknown to Chet, Virgil's guinea pig Gulliver is in the backpack and he goes down after it and gets trapped. Valencia is the next participant in the drama, as she puts the cover back on the well so protect her animals in the woods, unable to hear Virgil's cries for help. The four are brought together by Kaori's efforts to help her friends; she's trying to find Virgil, who she was going to help get the confidence to speak to Valencia and Valencia is a new client trying to get rid of the nightmare that continually plagues her.
There are no final answers for the participants in this story. Chet doesn't have any kind of epiphany and although readers may sympathize with his behavior because of his home life, he ends up backing off from Virgil when Virgil is able to stand up to him. Valencia doesn't solve her problem of her overbearing mother, but she does find a more sympathetic and congenial friend in Kaori and, hopefully, a new friend in Virgil as well, who admires her smart, stubborn, and confident personality. Virgil is the one most changed by the story as his time trapped in the well gives him the courage to start standing up and having a voice. He's still shy and quiet, but he's able to speak up for himself in the way that he most desperately wants to, changing the way his parents and friends see him.
Ultimately, this is a story about inner change, about kids making a difference in their own lives and the lives around them by small, everyday choices. Kelly's lovely writing brings out the thoughts and inner reflections of this group of quirky, quiet kids who are pushed into the background of their family and schools but shine in their own ways.
Verdict: Recommend this to fans of Wonder (it's much, much better in my opinion), Michele Hurwitz, Laurel Snyder, and other quiet but powerful stories of finding yourself. Recommended.
ISBN: 9780062414151; Published 2017 by Greenwillow; Borrowed from another library in my consortium