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The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

March 6, 2020

“One kid. One crime. One chance to make things right.”

Arthur Owens grasps a stone cold brick in his hand and hurls it at a garbage picker’s head. Luckily for Arthur, the wind has picked up, and the brick hits the man in the arm, knocking him into the street. Ever since Arthur lost his dad things haven’t been right, but the judge doesn’t care, he wants to send Arthur away forever.  But the Junk Man offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service, working for him. Arthur is given a wonky shopping cart and a list of the “Seven Most Important Things”: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. Arthur is curious about what the Junk Man will do with this “trash” that could potentially change his life. 

In The Seventh Most Important Thing, Shelley Pearsall crafts a remarkable story of how one person and one idea change a life forever. However, this book does have some mysterious aspects to it—it is kept a secret as to what the Junk Man is doing with the “trash” until Arthur starts working with him in his garage. As the reader, it is fun to experiment with theories as to what might happen next. During the novel, the reader may notice how Arthur’s character changes over time, through his family that surrounds him as they are struggling and as he continues to work for the Junk Man, instead of going to juvenile detention.

The Seventh Most Important Thing is written in third person and is contemporary realistic fiction. As a reader of this book, the pace could sometimes get a little slow, and it was harder to read, but I encourage others to keep pushing through: it will pay off. 

This book also has a fascinating real-life connection. The Judge reveals the Junk Man’s real name in the court session—James Hampton. James Hampton was an American folk artist from Washington, D.C., who worked as a janitor, but secretly built a large assemblage of religious art from scavenged materials, known as “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.” It’s currently on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

Pearsall has also written two other books—Trouble Don’t Last and Jump Into The Sky. Both have been strongly reviewed on Publishers Weekly and Booklist, looking like great reads. Trouble Don’t Last won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2003. 

I would rate this book a ten out of ten and recommend it to anyone who loves to see the power of one mistake turned into something unimaginable. 


Yearling, 288 pages

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