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“Maybe kindness spreads slowly, and even fails for a while, but then sort of seeps through again and keeps moving outward. . .” Maverick. —The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade
by Jordan Sonnenblick
AR Test, Must Read
Sixth-grader Maverick dreams of being a superhero. The only problem is that he’s weak, friendless, and has a host of problems. His father died in the war in Afghanistan. His alcoholic mother brings home abusive boyfriends. His mother’s love of alcohol and inability to keep a job often leaves Maverick hungry and wearing dirty clothes.
Maverick holds on to a plastic sheriff’s badge that his father gave him. The badge reminds him to fight for those smaller than him—even if it’s hard to find someone that small. However, every time Maverick tries to defend someone else, his efforts always take a wrong turn.
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade quickly pulls readers into the story because it’s told in a first-person point of view and showcases Maverick’s self-deprecating attitude and desire to help others. Even though Maverick has a host of problems, he has the heart of a hero. Readers will laugh out loud at his mishaps, cry at his misfortunes, and root for him every step of the way.
The supporting characters are so well developed that their unique personalities jump off the page. As Maverick gets to know other people, his perception of them changes as he realizes that their actions are often misinterpreted. For example, the assistant principal who Maverick originally thinks is terrible, turns out to have a kind heart.
Domestic abuse and alcoholism are weaved into the story in a kid-friendly manner, which allows the reader to see the devastation caused by the two without giving frightening details. At one point, Maverick wonders if he will become an abuser like his dad. His aunt tells him that changing the patterns of your life is difficult. “It’s hard. Sometimes making the right choices is super hard.”
The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is a fast-paced, powerful story that shows the importance of kindness and standing up for others. In the end, Maverick realizes that he is not just a “shrimpy loser,” but an imperfect boy that can impact others through acts of kindness. Maverick learns that “Maybe I didn’t need webs to be a hero—or rippling muscles, or a bulletproof shield. Maybe, at the end of the day, I could just keep trying to look around for people who needed a hand, and then grab on to theirs with my own.”
Readers will keep turning the pages of The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade. Maverick is an unforgettable character that readers will remember for a long time to come. Maverick’s lessons of kindness and persistence will leave the readers with a sense of optimism. The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is a must-read book for middle school readers.
- A girl tells Maverick that he can’t fight Bowen, but she was going to “kick his (Bowen’s) butt.” Then someone said, “Oh, she’s feisty, too! Is that how you like your women, Maverick? Big and spicy?”
- Maverick’s mother has a string of “loser” boyfriends, who physically abuse her. Maverick gets home and sees his mom, “clutching at her left eye, and sobbing. Johnny was leaning over her, shouting so loudly that I could see the spit flying out of his mouth into her hair. . . His hand whipped through the air and cracked across my mother’s face so hard her head smashed against the couch cushion and bounced forward again.
- Maverick sees a kid being picked on in school. In order to help, he “dropped my book bag, put my head down, and charged at Bowen . . . Too late, I dimly realized I had just knocked the little guy into a row of lockers. Oops. A split second later, my head and shoulders slammed into Bowen. . .“ Bowen is knocked into a trash can, and then the principal shows up and ends the fight.
- Maverick’s father was a “firefighter on an artillery base. A mortar round came in at night, hit some gas cans, and set the barracks on fire.” His father died trying to save the men.
- A father, who is a police officer, hits his son. “Before Bowen could say another word, his head rocketed sideways toward me and I heard him whimper. . . Bowen’s father had hit him, really hard, on the side of the head.”
- Maverick comes home and finds his mother, “Holding a bloody towel under her nose . . . Mom looked down at the towel in her hand, and almost seemed surprised to see it there. Maybe she was. I could smell the alcohol rolling off her from across the room.” His mother passes out.
- Maverick and Bowen meet at the park after school so they can fight. “He punched me, extremely hard, once. . . I felt a crack, and a slicking stab of pain. I stopped swinging, started to reach for my chest with one hand, and bent forward. As I did, Bowen swung his knee up, into that same spot of my chest. The impact jerked me fully upright. . . the entire left side of my sweatshirt was already soaked through with blood.” Bowen calls his father, who races Maverick to the hospital.
- Maverick’s mother’s ex-boyfriend comes to the house. The ex-boyfriend and his mother argue. Before violence begins, Maverick “squirmed my way between them, and said, ‘hit me, Johnny.’” Johnny leaves. His mother celebrates by drinking “something clear that was not water.”
- Maverick’s house burns when “your mother fell asleep with a lit cigarette.” Maverick’s pet is killed in the fire. Maverick thinks it’s his fault because, “I check in on her in the morning, and everything looked fine.”
- Maverick thinks back to when his dad was alive. When Maverick was little, his parents began to argue, and “then I heard a sharp smack and a gasp from the porch. . . My mother had whipped a hand up to cover one side of her face. . .”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Maverick’s mother has a drinking problem, which Maverick thinks about often. Once he had to “drop out of T-ball when my mom drank up the fifteen-dollar T-shirt fee.”
- When Maverick gets sent to the principal’s office, he doesn’t want to call his mom because “she didn’t have a car. She was probably hungover. Or still sleeping. Or, worst of all, drunk again.” Maverick calls his aunt and promises to tell his mother about being in trouble. He thinks, “I didn’t say that my plan was to wait until she’d had a bunch of drinks and was about to pass out.”
- When assigned to make a poster about his life, Maverick thinks, “if I had been totally honest, I would have cut out a pile of vodka bottles. . .”
- When Maverick’s mom loses her job, she “started drinking. And drinking. And drinking. . . Nothing got my mother up off the couch until the eighth day, when she ran out of alcohol.” His mother sold his father’s military medal of honor to pay for more alcohol.
- Max is upset because his friend complained about his mom not doing laundry and now “his favorite clothes were dirty.” Maverick’s mother didn’t do his laundry, and Maverick had to worry about “when scary teen gangsters were smoking and drinking in front of the laundry room of our apartment complex, so I was afraid to do my laundry and had to wear dirty stuff to school.”
- When Maverick’s mother’s ex-boyfriend shows up, he wonders, “Do I let him in? Should I offer him a beer?”
- When Maverick’s aunt goes to his house, he worries, “What if there were bottles of booze all over the place? What if it reeked of cigarettes and last night’s garbage?”
- Crud, darn, jerk, and holy cow are all used twice. Freaking is used seven times. Bonehead is also used.
- “Oh, my god,” is used as an exclamation once.
- Maverick is upset when the P.E. coach yells at him for not having the money to pay for his P.E. clothes. He thinks, “I don’t freaking have ten dollars.” Later, he thinks that the P.E. teacher had “Been a jerk about my problem.”
- In a humorous scene, Maverick calls someone a “cheese tool.” Someone tries to explain what a cheese tool is. “A cheese tool is the little plastic rectangle that comes in a packet of cheese and crackers.” The group of kids that heard the comments were confused. “Half the kids seemed to be muttering things like, ‘Cheese tool? What a moron!’ But the other half were like, ‘Dang! Bowen got called a cheese tool!’”
- Someone yells at a group of boys, “We’re all going to get in trouble, just because you three boneheads couldn’t control yourselves.”
- Someone calls Maverick a “shrimpy little idiot.”
- When a teacher talks about having a guest speaker, a student refers to the “special guest” as “special dorks.”