Hank Hudson is a boy who loves rocks and The Jungle Book. He does NOT like the very sad book his teacher is reading to the class: it gives him the a’a feeling, which is a geological term for lava flow which moves and cools at different rates. Hank has autism, and feels things, sees things, in a way that doesn’t always match his classmates. His classmate, Maisie Huang, notices him after a big incident lands Hank in some hot water. Her parents are geologists, so she invites him over to see their rock collection. It’s there that Hank discovers Maisie’s ulterior motive: she wants Hank to help her “rescue” her next door neighbor’s dog, Booler. Booler has seizures, and Mr. Jorgenson, his elderly owner keeps Booler tied to a tree outside, because it’s too dangerous for him to be indoors. Maisie has built up a vision of her neighbor that isn’t too flattering, and Hank, while happy to have a friend, is conflicted about a lot of Maisie’s “rescue” ideas. But the two kids become friendlier with Mr. Jorgenson, until he has an accident and his daughter comes to town. Hank and Maisie decide that Booler isn’t safe, after all, and revisit their initial rescue plan. Filled with cringeworthy, funny, and touching moments, We Could Be Heroes is a story about friendship, understanding, and feeling “less than”.
Hank and Maisie are complex characters that feel real. Readers may know kids like Hank and Maisie at school – they may be Hank or Maisie. Margaret Finnegan captures the feelings that go into a meltdown for a person with autism by linking Hank’s love of rocks and geology to the feeling that heralds a meltdown; the “a’a”, a Hawaiian word that, once defined, paints a picture for readers and opens the door to understanding. Maisie may frustrate some readers – this is a great character to talk about; find her motivation, and give pros and cons of her focus on saving Booler. The adults in the novel each have wonderful depth, too; they are all invested in our characters and important parts of the story throughout.
A strong choice for book discussions, We Could Be Heroes is a good realistic novel that delves into the complexity of emotions and friendships. Author Margaret Finnegan has epilepsy and autism resources available on her author webpage.
We Could Be Heroes is a Junior Library Guild selection.