by Dawn Malone
Hobbs Crane lives for football, rules the basketball court, and does his best to avoid the neighbor girl with the Jupiter-sized crush on him. With a new kid out to steal his starting basketball position, Hobbs needs to feel in control again. Then Hobbs finds a boy living inside a giant blue spruce on the empty city lot who becomes the biggest distraction of all. How long has he been there? Where did he come from? And why does he seem to be following Hobbs?
Leaving his real name and a neglectful home life behind, Up is running away to Florida to find his older sister who left home years ago. But he’s hungry and desperate, and finds the overgrown evergreen next to the old factory the perfect hideout until he makes a plan.
Can Hobbs and Up help each other face their own uncertain futures while forging an unlikely friendship? Or are they too different?
“Malone has delivered a sweet, clean read that touch on deeper issues in a gentle, kid-friendly way. It absolutely nails the child-maturing-into-adulthood complexities that make middle grade such a dynamic genre.”
“Malone has put a face on the homeless runaway. She has put a heart into the privileged all-star. She shows everyone that sometimes you do the right thing “just because”, and you don’t wait for thanks or applause or trophies. If these two boys existed in real life, I’d hug them so hard their eyes would pop.”
“Wonderful, moving story!”
CIR: What inspired this book?
MALONE: I make a habit of saving newspaper articles that resonate with me for whatever reason and use them as jumping-off points for new stories. I’d read an article years ago in Parade Magazine about a New York City ad exec who had passed a young boy panhandling on the sidewalk everyday on her way to work, and one day she stopped to ask him if he’d join her for lunch at McDonalds, which started a decades-long friendship. After I read it, I wondered what would happen if another boy the same age had reached out to him instead.
CIR: Who is your favorite character and why?
MALONE: I really like Cheri since she’s sassy, vulnerable, and no one’s fool. I like her positive outlook even though her home life isn’t the best. She gets in Hobbs’s face quite a bit when she doesn’t agree with him, but she has a not-so-secret crush on him, too.
CIR: What was the hardest part of writing this story?
MALONE: I had trouble making Up more likable until someone suggested that I write a dual-viewpoint story. The original story was told from Hobbs’s viewpoint so I wasn’t able to show Up’s motivations for some of his actions. Rewriting the POV in an already-complete novel was not fun, but in hindsight it turned out to be a much stronger story.
CIR: What would you compare this book to?
MALONE: I always try to find a few mentor texts when I start writing as my personal ‘cheerleaders’ throughout the process. For this story, I drew from Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee for its overall tone, and Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars because I really liked the characters’ camaraderie within their friend group.
CIR: What message do you hope your readers will get out of this book?
MALONE: My hope is to show readers that reaching out to others can create positive change—for yourself, others, and society as a whole—when you step out of your comfort zone, and that even the smallest gesture may leave a lasting impact.