Sam Brattle, an eleven year old, is not a happy kid. It is Christmas, but he's been in trouble with school and the law, his father's bakery is failing, and he hasn't seen his mother in a while. In addition, his town, Nickel Bay, usually has its own secret Santa Claus (who is referred to a Nickel Bay Nick) who brings goodwill and cheer to the town each year, but this year, he hasn't shown up. So the whole town is missing its usual holiday spirit. When his father goes over to his girlfriend's house on Christmas night, Sam refuses to go and accidentally finds out some big news that his parents were keeping from him. In a burst of anger, Sam ends up destroying a huge Christmas display in a neighbor's yard, meets that neighbor, Mr. Wells, and begins a journey in more ways than one.
I loved watching Sam evolve through the story. His relationships with his parents, his friends, and Mr. Wells change gradually as Sam atones for his behavior and learns about himself and his town. Suspense and secrets abound in this novel, which will appeal to a kid's sense of adventure. But although there are heart-pounding moments and many plot twists, I think it is the characters that make the story so interesting. No one is perfect, everyone has flaws and makes mistakes, but it is never too late to change and make amends. Fans of Holes, by Louis Sachar and Loser, by Jerry Spinelli will love Nickel Bay Nick!
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