The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman


Gennifer Choldenko’s The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman is a moving story about an 11-year-old abandoned by his single mom and left to care for his 3-year-old sister, Boo, inspired by Choldenko’s own childhood experiences of having undependable parents and a caring older brother who acted as a surrogate parent. Fans of the Newbery Honor author’s Tales from Alcatraz series won’t be disappointed. Hank is an engaging narrator, and his desperate plight, as well as the caring community of characters he encounters, are reminiscent of Kate DiCamilo’s Beverly, Right Here.

After about a week alone in their apartment, facing eviction with no money, food, or electricity, Hank, who has no idea who his father is, realizes that his mother isn’t coming back anytime soon. Hank loves his mom, but he knows  that sometimes she “will drive to Mexico in the middle of the night or invite strange people to our apartment or not come home at all.”

A dreamer, but also smart and responsible, Hank wonders how he and Boo will survive, musing that at least the kids in From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler had money for tickets to the museum they found themselves living in. Instead, he lands on the doorstep of Lou Ann Adler, a friend of his late, beloved grandmother. This hard-nosed, 60-ish daycare provider welcomes Boo with open arms, but peers sharply at preteen Hank, announcing, “I’m not wild about teenagers.”

Hank does an excellent job coping with the endless uncertainties in his life, which are expertly channeled via Choldenko’s succinctly effective prose. Despite Hank’s grim situation, this is an upbeat, hopeful book that shows how supportive communities can rise up out of seemingly nowhere. Hank befriends Lou Ann’s kindhearted neighbor Ray Delgado, as well as Ray’s large, extended family. He attends a new school, where he finds an inspiring basketball coach as well as a lively, diverse group of friends. His relationship with Boo, who equally adores him, forms the heart of this novel: “Without Boo I feel like a shoe in a sock drawer,” Hank explains. Their journey features diligent social workers and a dangerous and dramatic appearance by Hank and Boo’s mother that forces Hank to make a gut-wrenching choice.

Readers will immediately be drawn into the world of The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman, whose endearing and memorable characters will inspire repeated readings. This book tackles a tricky subject with grace, showing readers that even seemingly hopeless situations can offer happy endings.

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