Do you remember that seeming-impossible assignment your teacher gave you in middle school? Reuben St. Clair gives the same extra-credit assignment to his students each year:
“Think of an idea for world change, and put it into action.”
Not many student rise to the challenge, but Trevor decides to give it a try. His idea is to do something kind for three people, and ask each of them to in turn do something kind for three more people. If each person will help three others, kindness should multiply and mushroom into something huge, something that can change the world.
So Trevor finds people to help – a homeless bum, a recovering alcoholic, a Vietnam veteran who has been badly burned. The assignment does not work out as neatly as Trevor had hoped it would. He tries so hard, and becomes frustrated when plans go awry.
The story has an interesting style, told by many people in turn. Each of them is a part of the cycle of paying-it-forward. Chris Chandler is the journalist who investigates the movement. He tries to figure out who actually thought up the idea, but it takes a lot of time and perseverance to find Trevor.
You may have seen the movie version of this story, with Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey, and Helen Hunt. While the book and the movie have a great deal of variation, both are excellent. Each one tackles some serious topics, including domestic abuse, attitudes about physical unattractiveness, and the difficulty of kicking a drug or alcohol addiction. But no matter how many things go wrong in life, the character of Trevor shows that each one of us has the capacity to encourage and lift up people around us.