Taking place in the 1970s, in an urban all African American school, this book highlights the hard topics of racism, faith, hope, and disabilities. A white boy comes to the school and is soon dubbed“Jesus Boy”. His entrance as the only white student causes tension and misunderstandings. Some of the students believe that he is Jesus and others simply hope he is. He is very quiet and doesn’t let Trevor, the class bully, hurt him. He just calmly talks to Trevor and never retaliates.
Jesus Boy knows sign language which intrigues Frannie since she has known sign language her whole life. Frannie has grown up with a deaf older brother, and is very sensitive to how people treat and perceive him. She is hesitant about being friends with Jesus Boy because she does not understand him and wonders why he would cross over“the bridge” to their side. She is torn because she knows how difficult it can be to be the new kid, but she does not want to stand out. Frannie’s best friend Samantha believes that Jesus Boy truly is Jesus Christ and that he has come in this time of chaos and because of the war. During all that is going on Frannie constantly thinks of the poem she read in class that said "Hope is the thing with feathers".
Jesus Boy is subject to a lot of bullying by Trevor. Trevor picks on Jesus Boy because he is the only one who is lighter skinned than himself. Trevor has a white father who left his mother before Trevor was born. One day Trevor is swinging and decides to try to jump off and land on a fence because he wants to feel like he is flying. He falls short and breaks his arm. When he comes back to school he is even angrier at Jesus Boy and tries to fight him with one arm. Jesus Boy is about to fight him back when Trevor falls in the snow. The class realizes that Jesus Boy is just a boy because Jesus would never fight someone. The class also realizes that Trevor is also just a boy and that they shouldn’t be afraid of him anymore. Jesus Boy and Frannie immediately go and help Trevor up out of the snow.
Later Samantha asks Frannie why she helped Trevor, and Frannie doesn’t know. Samantha then admits that she was wrong about Jesus Boy and says she doesn’t know what to believe in anymore. Frannie tries to comfort Samantha and says “Maybe there’s a little bit of Jesus inside of all of us. Maybe Jesus is just that something good or something sad or something...something that makes us do stuff like help Trevor up even when he is cursing us out. Or maybe... maybe Jesus is just that thing you had when the Jesus Boy got here, Samantha. Maybe Jesus is the hope that you were feeling” (p. 109).
At the end of the book Frannie reflects on all that has been happening in her life. She thinks of her mother’s baby, her brother, Samantha’s loss of faith, and, especially, Jesus Boy. She remembers the poem she read in class and decides “Each moment, I am thinking, is a thing with feathers”