Life hasn’t been great for Jeff Hicks. After years at his beloved St. Catherine’s, he’s forced to spend eighth grade in the public middle school, which he hates. He’s no longer speaking to his former best friend, Tom Bender, because of “that burned girl” Jessica Feeney. But worst of all, his family is changing, and it’s not for the better.
When his mom comes home announcing that she’s lost her job, Jeff begins to worry about things far beyond his years: How will they pay the rent? Will his absentee dad step up and save the day? Is his mom drinking too much? And ultimately, where will they live?
The Great Jeff is a powerful look at the life of a troubled boy who finds his life spiraling out of control.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Alcoholism
Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 4-7. Jeff, the bully character in Abbott’s Firegirl (2006), is back in this stand-alone companion novel. Jeff’s dad has left, his mom has lost her job and is drinking a lot, and Jeff is now attending public school for eighth grade. Things start spiraling out of control as Jeff’s mom struggles to pay rent and find a job, eventually leading to them getting kicked out of their house. As Jeff bounces around to different homes, he begins having trouble at school and in his homelife. Though he hated switching to public school, he starts to find hope through his English class and the help he receives from his classmate Hannah and his former friend Tom. Readers may see themselves in Jeff or find empathy with a classmate as they realize, along with Jeff, that it can be difficult to ask for help and that kindness can go a long way. Abbott has written a hopeful coming-of-age story that portrays the challenges of poverty in a realistic and relatable way.
Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2018)
In a companion to Firegirl (2006), Abbott turns his attention to Jeff, who was the obnoxious, bullying best friend of the earlier book’s protagonist, Tom. Jeff, now in eighth grade and at a different school, is struggling to deal with the issues caused by his single mom’s alcohol problems. His father, who left to live with a girlfriend, provides little in the way of financial help and even less emotional support. After his mom loses her job, their lives believably spiral downward. They are evicted, leading to a series of overnight stays in increasingly unpleasant circumstances that finally culminate in a frigid night in the car and then a move to a shelter. Jeff is determined to keep his situation a secret, but Hannah, a sensitive classmate, begins to suspect. When help does eventually appear, it’s from an unexpected source: Tom, whom Jeff has avoided since their falling out in seventh grade. What elevates this effort above so many other inadequate-parent tales is Jeff himself. It’s because he’s a tough kid to like: His first-person narration reveals that he’s angry, quick to judge, and eager to mouth off or push back against any show of kindness. It’s only when the obstacles become insurmountable that he matures enough to distinguish between his friends’ compassion and the pity he despises. Abbott uses naming conventions and cues such as hairstyles to hint at race in this diverse environment; Jeff and his family present white and Hannah, black. A moving, realistic coming-of-age tale. (Fiction. 10-14)
About the Author
Tony Abbott is the award-winning author of more than a hundred books for young readers, including Firegirl, The Postcard, and the Secrets of Droon series.
Abbott was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1952. His father was a university professor and had an extensive library of books which became one of Abbott’s first sources of literature. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Connecticut where he went through elementary school and high school.
Abbott attended the University of Connecticut, and after studying both music and psychology, decided to study English and graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He attended the workshops of Patricia Reilly Giff to further develop his writing after college.
He lives in Connecticut with his family. His website is www.tonyabbottbooks.com
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