When the fattest boy in American rides into the small town of Antler, Texas, the effect is anything but small. Zachary Beaver arrives in a small trailer, decorated with Christmas lights. The trailer ends up in the town's Dairy Maid parking lot. Admission is $2.00 to take a look at 600 pound Zachary. Toby and his friend Cal join the long line for the brief glimpse.
It is a summer of change. Toby's mother leaves her family behind for a western music career. Toby's best friend's brother is fighting in Vietnam. Toby himself is in love with Scarlett, who in turn loves an older and more suave Juan. And Toby lives in one of the more boring small towns of Texas, where nothing ever happens, until Zachary Beaver comes to town. "The cramped trailer smells like pine-Sol and lemon Pledge, and it's dark except for a lamp and sunlight slipping between the crack in the curtains. A drape hangs at one end, hiding the space behind it. And in the middle of the trailer sits the largest human being I've ever seen. When Zachary is deserted by his legal guardian, who takes off to find an additional side-show act, Toby and Cal begin leaving food and gifts on Zachary's doorstep. They hear Zachary's made-up stories of seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Seattle Space Needle. They learn that Zachary's mother died, and that Zachary was never baptized. Tender and memorable scenes include Toby and Cal building a set of steps to get Zachary into a truck to see a drive-in movie, and the efforts made to help Zachary be baptized, away from a side-show crowd at a nearby lake.
The small town setting allows the larger and more important themes of love, friendship, loneliness, despair, hope and fulfilled dreams, to take their rightful place in this memorable coming-of age story. Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, "When Zachary Beaver Came to Town" is not to be missed.