You know how people say their entire life changed when a big event happened? Well, stuff like that happens because we experience stuff because we decided to go to that event. That’s also how stories work: some big event happens and the characters react to it. That’s the basses to When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. I came across this book by looking at a list of books and this one stood out to me. It also had one of those “National Book Award Winner” stickers on it. It’s too bad that this was a massive disappointment.
Zachary Beaver, the “Fattest Boy in the World,” arrives in the backwater town of Antler, Texas. It is because of this small event that Toby Wilson’s life takes a huge turn that will leave him changed forever.
This is one of those slice of life books that win awards because it’s slice of life. I don’t have a problem with slice of life. Hell, I’m a huge fan of them especially in anime form. The problem is that this book goes from really interesting to super boring. Hell, Zachary Beaver doesn’t really play that much into what happens in Toby’s life. The actual events in this book are Zachary’s mom entering a singing competition in Nashville, his friend Cal’s brother fighting in Vietnam and Toby trying to get the girl of his dreams to notice him.
While these are all interesting in their own right, Holt manages to make them boring and even predictable (Cal’s brother dying, for one.)
As far as Zachary, his presence in Antler doesn’t cause that much to happen. Hell, take him out and very little will change. Holt had to create some kind of plot for Zachery to be there. That one plot point is he wasn’t baptized and now Toby and co. help him to get baptized. See what I mean by him adding nothing to the plot?
It’s not a terrible book by any mean. Holt does showcase writing talent. It’s just that this book offers very little and the payoff makes you feel like you wasted your time.
Don’t let the “National Book Award Winner” sticker fool you, this book is a great concept with a weak story and even weaker payoff. There are plenty of National Book Award winning books out there that are worth reading, it’s just that this one isn’t.