We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

We Could Be Heroes puts together two “neurodiverse” youngsters in a misguided quest that results in real friendship.

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan. Atheneum, 2020, 241 pages.

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 8-14

Two things we learn right away about Hank Hudson: he likes rocks, and he hates sad books. He hates the book his teacher is reading to the fourth-grade class—so much, that when we first see him he’s trying to set fire to it in the school bathroom. That doesn’t go over well, but he still has his rocks. And then he has Maisie. True, at first this seems a mixed blessing, for Maisie is a strong personality of the kind that can bring on that a’a feeling (the Hawaiian word for a type of lava flow):

A’a was how Hank felt when he had a meltdown. His world felt out of sync, like his body was moving at different rates. On the surface, everything felt prickly and sharp. Sounds, textures, colors, smells poked him until he felt punctured and bruised. But even while that was happening, part of him felt heavy, dense, immovable. A’a was just like it sounded—two long awes signaling two awe-inspiring and simultaneous methods of destruction . . . A’a was the thing he didn’t like about having autism.

Maisie has her neurodiversity issue, too, but it’s not as immediately apparent. What is apparent is her love for dogs, especially Booler, a pit bull who is kept tied up by the mean neighbor next door. Maisie is determined to rescue Booler and sees in Hank an able accomplice, whether or not he wants that role.

The mix of these very distinctive personalities produces a series of mishaps, misunderstandings and ultimate near-calamity. Though Maisie’s vocabulary and gift of gab stretches credulity at times, her perspective is totally believable. As for Hank, we feel his perspective stretching, both through the surprise of friendship and the pain of a’a as both he and Masie come to see each other as distinct individuals. The plot veers toward sad-book territory, then triumphantly speeds toward the kind of satisfying ending Hank would love almost as much as rocks. A joy to read, and a fun read-aloud, too.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Caleb and Kit is a similar story of two kids coming together while facing separate challenges.
  • Friendship is an enduring theme in children’s literature, as it is throughout life. For a practical how-to guide, see our review of Growing Friendships.

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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