I think as adults we often forget how hard life is for kids. Even on a daily basis, when there are no major crises, kids experience frustrations, glee, and social conflict that are especially hard just because they don't yet know how to deal with them. Middle schoolers have it the worst, because everything (to them) is magnified 1000%.
Toby Wilson is a Texan middle schooler who is having an extremely rough summer, even by normal standards. His mother has left him and his father, his best friend's brother is fighting in Vietnam, and the love of his life (well, the love of his middle school life) is with another guy. And while he's feeling sorry for himself, along comes Zachary Beaver. Zachary is a 15 year old boy who is larger than life...literally. He is a big guy, and his "guardian" is capitalizing on his size by pulling him around from town to town in a trailer and charging admission to see the "Fattest Boy in the World." Zachary turns out to be sort of a jerk, the kind who is the way he is because he has had a hard life, too. When Toby and his best friend Cal get to know Zachary, the find out that he is full of surprises...and they surprise themselves when they go to great lengths to help him.
One of the recurring issues for Zachary is that he wants to be baptized. Because of his enormous size, and his discomfort with the town's minister (probably because even in such a wee little town the dude never even tries to see or help Zachary), he refuses to even attempt to go to church. In one conversation about baptism, Toby finds out that ,"First, he should respond to our altar call. He can wait till the fourth stanza if he wants. He must confess he's a sinner. Then we'll schedule him in our baptistery. He'd be the tenth person to be baptized in our brand-new baptistery." Reverend Newton says that as if Zachary would win a big prize. Kind of like the time IGA grocery store gave Earline a color TV for being the ten-thousandth customer.
It occurred to me that getting baptized doesn't sound all that exciting when you have Reverend Newton breaking it down to schedules and which stanza Zachary could walk down the aisle. He's more excited about the new baptistery than he is about what getting baptized would actually mean for Zachary. Reverend Newton also left out a key requirement in the process. Not only should a person confess that they are a sinner, they should also believe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Once that change of heart and soul has been made, the baptism is merely a symbol. A meaningful, important symbol, but just a symbol. Reverend Newton should have explained that more clearly.
I really appreciated that one of the key figures in the story was Miss Myrtie Mae, the town's librarian. Miss Myrtie Mae pays attention, and she makes things happen for Toby, Zachary, and Cal the way only a librarian can. ;)