Book Review: Hazard by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Title: Hazard

Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction/Books in Verse

Number of Pages: 160

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes


Overall, definitely one of the better ‘books in verse’ I’ve read. I remember reading and really enjoying Dovey Coe when I was a kid (I might have to give that one a reread,) but this was the first book I’ve read by Frances O’Roark Dowell as an adult. She can still tell a compelling story!

Hazard is an adolescent boy who lives and breathes football. His dad was a soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, before getting his legs blown off by an IED. He is depressed and doesn’t want to see his sons (or more likely, doesn’t want his sons to see the shape he’s in.)

Hazard primarily lives with his grandmother while his mom spends a lot of time with his dad at the hospital. That leaves Hazard babysitting his little brother a lot. When Hazard has an ‘incident’ and ends up injuring another kid on the football field, he’s forced to see a therapist to talk out his anger management issues. Initially Hazard isn’t cooperative at all, he’s ‘fine.’ But slowly he begins to open up about his troubled home life.

Hazard is both an epistolary novel (largely made up of emails and texts) and a book in verse. It sounds weird but it works surprisingly well. Hazard as a protagonist is thoroughly engaging, and despite his cockiness and bravado he is an easy character to like and root for. The use of different forms of epistolary methods (including letters written by Hazard’s dad and a recorded interview with the grandmother) help keep things fresh and interesting.

We don’t get any emails from the therapist (who remains voiceless throughout) and I thought it would have been interesting if the book had incorporated him as more of a character. Without his viewpoint there seems to be a certain lack of context. The story itself was also very short (even for a book in verse) and Hazard’s character arc felt somewhat abrupt.

I felt like the author could have built on the storyline and the character more. Nevertheless, this was an emotionally affecting story that gives an informative look into the lives of soldiers and their families. It might also appeal to reluctant readers because of its brief duration and use of a unique format.

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