Over the last couple of years, Ked’s life has slowly fallen apart. He’s been diagnosed with kyphosis, which has deformed his back. His friends have deserted him. Ked’s mother walked out on him and his dad. Ked doesn’t think things can get worse. Then he discovers that his dad has gambled away their rent money.
The thought of becoming homeless motivates Ked to fight back. He sneaks into his dad’s room and steals enough money to buy a broken down, vintage minibike. Ked is sure that he can repair the minibike and make a profit. The only problem is that Ked needs tools, which can only be found at the school’s maker space. Going to the maker space forces Ked into the path of a school bully who torments him about his condition. Can Ked and a few unlikely new friends find a way to build the bike and save his family from going under before it’s too late?
On Thin Ice begins with Ked’s very slow, detailed account of how his disease changed his life. Even though Ked tells his own story, some readers will have a difficult time relating to Ked, who has a messy life full of conflict. Ked blames most of his problems on his disease and never takes steps to stop the school bully, Landrover, from tormenting him. Ked doesn’t ask others for help but seems resigned to his lonely life.
Ked’s story mostly focuses on his need to fix the minibike. As he works on the mechanics, the story gives many long descriptions of his work. Readers who are interested in engines will find the descriptions interesting; however, readers with no knowledge of mechanics may quickly become bored. The pacing picks up as the story progresses, and the conclusion allows the reader to understand how many of Ked’s problems were actually a result of his own behavior. After a near-death experience, Ked finally relies on others and realizes that he must take steps to improve his life. He says, “I used to think my whole life had been stolen, piece by piece, but I figured something out. That’s how you put a life back together too. Just little pieces, but they add up.”
Despite the slow start, middle grade readers interested in mechanics should read On Thin Ice because it has many positive life lessons including the importance of honesty and communication. Ked also learns that he cannot be defined by his disease. Readers who want a more engaging story that tackles family problems should add Almost Home by Joan Bauer to their reading list.
- While at school, Ked sits in the only available seat. The boy next to him “delivers a sharp punch to my thigh, grinding his knuckles in at the end.” Ked yells out in pain, but when the teacher asks what happened, he lies and says it was a “cramp or something.” Another boy “drills me in the other thigh. All I can do is bite my lip and take it. The punches stop after that.”
- When Ked takes the motorized bike on a test drive, a classmate named Landrover chases him on a four-wheeler. Ked crashes the bike. “I am flying off the trail and into the woods, already falling as I go. Falling and flying, flying and falling…Then impact… My left knee hits the ground first, and the pain shoots through me in a hot, electric burst. My body hits next, and the pain fills my upper back like water flowing into a hollow place.” Ked is banged up, but not seriously injured.
- Landrover walks on a frozen pond and falls through the ice. “Landrover’s face is slick with water and contorted with fear. His numb hands are pawing uselessly at the edge of the ice, breaking it into chunks.” After Ked saves Landrover’s life, he is upset that Landrover “didn’t even say thank you.”
- After Landrover falls in the ice, he tells Ked, “Dad’s gonna kill me!” Later, Ked sees Landrover with a bruised face and thinks, “it looks like his dad gave it a good try.” Ked makes an “anonymous tip” that leads to Landrover and his father getting family therapy.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Some of the kids at school call Ked “freakins” and “freak.” For example, a boy tells Ked, “You’re dead meat, freak.”
- Someone calls Ked a loser several times.
- While in the library, a boy gives Ked the book The Hunchback of Norte-Dame. Ked thinks, “Frickin’ Quasimodo.”
- Heck is used twice.
- The characters refer to others as jerks.
- Ked frequently refers to himself and others as idiots. For example, when Ked gets upset at his father, he thinks, “I want to shout at him and tell him I know and he’s an idiot…”
- Several times Ked refers to himself as an idiot.
- A girl calls Ked “garbage boy.”
- A girl calls the class bully a scumbag.
- “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation three times.
- The school bully calls Ked a “dipstick” and a “dummy.”
- Ked said a quick prayer, and then later he thinks, “I consider another quick prayer, but it’s not like the first one worked out so great.”