Twelve-year-old Joey MacTagert's dad wants his son to carry on the family tradition of hunting. But Joey has "buck fever"—he can't pull the trigger on a deer, and hates the idea of killing animals. He's more interested in art and hockey, two activities that his dad barely acknowledges.
Joey's dad wants him to use his special skill in tracking to hunt down the big antlered buck that roams the woods near their home. Joey knows how to track Old Buck, but has kept secret from his father the reason he's gained the deer's trust. When trouble between his parents seems to escalate, Joey and his older sister, Philly, find themselves in the middle of tensions they don't fully understand. Joey wants to keep the peace, and if conquering his buck fever will do it, he has to try.
Buck Fever is a nominee for the 2003 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
Willis's (Dog Gone) second novel nicely weaves a few familiar tropes into an entertaining and intense tale. Twelve-year-old Joey has the talent to be an amazing hunter: he's a great shot and, thanks to an ear infection that left him partially deaf, his sense of smell borders on the super-human. His father, an avid hunter, expects Joey to bring down his first buck during deer season, but Joey is more interested in playing hockey and drawing. With Joey's mother constantly out of the country on business trips, Joey struggles to tell his father that he doesn't want to shoot a deer, as well as whether to enter the art show his neighbor and mentor, Mrs. Davies, is pushing him toward. Subplots revolving around illegal hunting tactics and a creepy neighbor eventually merge into Joey's story, leading to a tense and dangerous climax. Willis avoids easy answers, clich s, and moralizing, instead focusing on Joey's inner struggle and the stress his mother's absence causes. The result is a satisfying novel filled with solid characters who learn the consequences of making some hard choices. Ages 9 13.