The Janitor's Boy
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|Cover artist||Brian Selznick|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
The story, set in the city of Huntington, Minnesota, centers around a fifth grader named "Jack" Rankin, Jr. who, while the new middle school is being built for the town, finds himself going to school in the old high school, where his father works as a janitor. After being ridiculed for wanting to be a janitor "like his dad" several years ago, he has tried to separate himself from his father as much as he can, but now finds these attempts futile since they are now in the same building. In order to let out his frustration, he concocts a plan to stick a large wad of gum to the bottom of a desk for his father to later clean up. Unfortunately, his plan backfires, and he is sentenced to three weeks of cleaning gum off of the bottom of desks and chairs in different parts of the school, for one hour every day.
Jack is enraged by this punishment, since he will now be working for his father, but still manages to make some interesting discoveries: he finds a picture of his dad, another janitor, and two other men during their time in the army, and finds the key box for the building. Intrigued, he takes a key to the school bell tower, and another for the steam tunnel beneath the school. After his exploration of the bell tower, he realizes that he must, to his disappointment, drive home with his father.
During the ride home, Jack's dad reveals that before his days as a janitor, he worked for his father at an old car dealership, and absolutely loathed it. He tells Jack that his grandfather would never let John have his own car, and that in anger he stole his father's corvette, only to completely destroy it in a crash with a light pole. In the hospital, John's father told him that he could forget about college until he paid off the price of the car in work, and so John joined the army the next day. John finishes his story by saying that at his father's funeral; several people approached John and mentioned how his father would always give away a couple of cars every year, free of charge, to help people. He tells Jack that the reason John never got a car was because his father loved him and didn't want him to be spoiled.
Astounded by this revelation, Jack must nevertheless continue cleaning gum off different parts of the school, and while cleaning the auditorium he discovers the access door to the steam tunnel. Feeling courageous at first, Jack still ends up locking himself in the tunnel, and must follow his keen sense of smell to get out. As he reaches the final crossroads, he finds that a tiny "apartment" has been set up. Jack also finds that a boy named Eddie is currently staying there while his father tries to recover from his days in the Vietnam War, which he spent with Jack's father. Emerging from the tunnels in the town's fire station, Jack manages to catch a ride home with his dad, who explains to him that the little living area beneath the town was set up to give people a place to go, like Eddie. After the Vietnam War, John was completely out of it until a janitor at the high school offered him a job in order to get back on his feet. In turn, John put together the living area under the crossroads to help others. The first "resident" happened to be one of John's fellow janitors, Lou, who John met during his second tour during the war. Eventually, Lou moved out of the tunnels, but the furniture was left in the tunnels in case somebody else ever needed them.
Touched by his father's kindness, and the kindness of those his father knew, Jack receives a newer, kinder image of his father, and the bond between them begins to grow closer.