I try not to read other reviews of a book before I read and review it myself, but this one came across my radar several times before it appeared in my TBR pile.
Any time the big name reviewers rave about a feel-good story, I approach it with some trepidation, hardening myself against too much schmaltz.
The folders. The folders in her desk. Okay, Anderson, you got me. Sniffle.
Backing up a bit: any time an author can carry off writing in different voices, my hat is off to them. Here we have three boys, all the same age, telling the story in alternating chapters. Anderson could have fallen into a trope of using different vernacular to help differentiate, but the truth is, three boys who hang out together are probably going to talk much the same. Being the same age, with similar interests, their inner monologue (which we see a lot of) is going to be similar as well. Anderson still manages to make each a distinct personality, so it never gets confusing.
The three are embarked on the same quest of course, for reasons that are as different as they are similar. Being preteen boys (if I may stereotype a bit here myself), their quest goes continually awry, but thanks to the things Ms. Bixby has taught them, as well as their own strengths, they find a kind of success.
(And then I bawl my eyes out.)
This would be a fantastic book to read out loud with a class - if you are brave enough to be compared with the perfect teacher! Adages from famous philosophers and Ms. Bixby herself are peppered through the book, offering an obvious discussion/writing extension. Some other wonderful lines:
"We're not like peas in a pod or anything. But sometimes you just need a place to sit and eat lunch." - Brand
"I suppose there is some strange comfort in it - this idea that the numbers are sometimes wrong, that there are still mysteries in the universe, and that you don't always have to know why you do the things you do. Sometimes, despite all evidence to the contrary, things can go your way." - Steven
"I hear that alcohol makes people do strange things, but I always assumed you had to drink it first." - Topher
See? Three distinct personalities, with very different back stories, and one remarkable teacher. Is she too good to be true? Maybe, maybe not (a certain 4th grade teacher comes to mind), but it doesn't matter. She and the boys all demonstrate the power a few kind words can have, as well as the power we have to just be more or better versions of ourselves. Afraid I will have to agree with the reviewers on this one, and encourage you to put it on your must-have list!