The Great Jeff
When we first meet him at the beginning of Tony Abbott’s new novel, The Great Jeff, eighth grader Jeff Bender’s life is beginning to fall apart. Jeff’s mother, who is struggling with alcoholism, has recently lost her job, and, without the money to cover tuition, Jeff has been forced to transfer from the private school he had been attending to a public school where he doesn’t know anyone. Some readers will recognize Jeff as the obnoxious, sharp-tongued antagonist in Abbott’s earlier novel, Firegirl, in which Tom Bender, the tale’s protagonist, finally finds the courage to end his friendship with Jeff, who has bullied him for years. In his new book, Abbott invites young readers to shift perspectives and enter into Jeff’s angry, bitter world. When his mother is hospitalized after an accident, Jeff’s life spirals steadily downward until he finds himself frightened, homeless, and alone. As things hit rock bottom, Jeff learns to take responsibility for his own actions and to let go of the bitterness that had soured his relationships with other people throughout his life. In the end, Jeff and Tom, who appears in the audiobook’s final scenes, forgive each other for the hurt they caused one another in the past. “I only saw the junk you did, not the junk you had to live with” Tom confesses to Jeff after the two have renewed their friendship. Actor Josh Hurley is pitch perfect in his first-person narration, sharing Jeff’s story of loss and recovery without a trace of self-pity or sentimentality. For young readers who are willing to gaze into the harsh reality of Jeff’s life, The Great Jeff is a powerful story of friendship, self-discovery, and forgiveness.
Running time: 6 hours 27 minutes
David Shirley ©2019 Parents’ Choice
David Shirley’s recent nonfiction titles include A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Fix It Leroy! His YA biographies, Every Day I Sing the Blues: The Story of B. B. King and Satchel Paige: Baseball Legend were honored as the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens.