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2018
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Trade Reviews
New York Times Review
How can middle schoolers be themselves, but still find their people? These books search for an answer. of the many strange paradoxes that bedevil our tween years - years that most of us would never, ever wish to relive - few perplex more thoroughly than the tension between wanting to be a confident, competent, standout individual, while at the same time yearning with a desire almost beyond expression to be accepted into a community, a group, a team, a club, a clique - anything. That old American saw about selfreliance may be compelling in an Emerson essay, but it doesn't hold up well when you're in a school cafeteria, holding a tray loaded with soggy burritos, looking for the friendly place to sit without seeming to be looking for the friendly place to sit. And it's this paradox that looms large in these new novels, each of which suggests the extraordinary complexity of negotiating this tension between individuality and community. The journey toward resolution, these authors suggest, is more inward than most middle schoolers might imagine. june harper, the rebel librarian of Allison Varnes's property of the rebel librarian (RANDOM HOUSE, 288 PP., $16.99; AGES 8 TO 12), begins her journey with a growing recognition that the extreme, almost bizarre strictures her parents place on her life are more than abnormal, they are unjust. Her growing anger at being expected to remain under their total domination is matched only by her growing anger at her sister, who has fled to college, abandoning June to their fierce control. When her books are taken away from her and later returned, mangled by censorious black pens and mauled by the removal of pages, and when her parents' influence leads to the censorship of the school library and the development of a cadre of young censors, June is thrust into the role of the "rebel librarian," building an underground library in the locker beside her own, and leading an ever-enlarging group of students into a literary revolution against the school administration and, by proxy, her parents. In our censorious times, that battle and the extremes through which it is depicted are enough to keep the pages turning. But - and I'm so sorry to sound like Dumbledore here - it is the choices that June makes about her own life that give this novel its solidity and meaning. In becoming the "rebel librarian," June is turning away from the groups that defined her in the past, which she had hoped would define her in the future. These include her family - which had planned her entire life - her new (and first) boyfriend, and the close friends she has had for years. It is an act of remarkable courage, no less powerful and no less painful because she comes to it incrementally, as she grows more and more committed to her new identity. Because Allison Varnes is a gentle writer - imagine this same scenario in the hands of, say, Robert Cormier - June finds that her new identity actually leads to a new belonging, to other kids who love books as much as she does. Who knew? If the happy ending is a bit too happy, the conclusion still leads you to the gentle thought that negotiating individuality and communality can lead to a satisfying selfrealization. NEITHER PABLO cartaya nor Antony John leaves things quite so easily. In marcus VEGA DOESN'T SPEAK SPANISH (VIKING, 272 PP., $16.99; AGES 8 TO 12), MarCUS, who tOWers physically over his fellow eighth graders, is defined in his school as a bully - mostly because he looks the part. Outside of his family, he doesn't belong in any group because everyone - including some of his teachers - believe his assigned role is all that he is. Even his family group is fractured, however; his father did not come with the family when they left Puerto Rico for Pennsylvania, and they haven't seen him for a decade. But in that fracture, as his mother works long hours to support her two sons, we see what is most true about Marcus: his devotion to his brother, who lives with Down syndrome. The sweet yet unsentimental scenes between them are some of the novel's most powerful. When his mother finds a way to bring them to Puerto Rico for a week, Marcus is thrilled; he will be able to track down and connect with his long-lost father. What he finds is something much larger: an extended family that has been waiting for them all these years, whose love is grace, whose hospitality is a blessing, whose connection is not strained. So when Marcus finally finds his father, he comes to clarity about what his father has done and what his absence has really meant. Despite the pain of this, Marcus knows that he can still live: "I always thought I wanted to see you. ... To let you meet my brother, who is the coolest kid in the world. But you never answered. You never even tried. I just want you to know that you're not the hero in this story." And so, "I put my father away forever." Marcus can say this only out of the strength he has found from a new belonging with his larger family. Cartaya's is a leisurely novel; the pace will not be rushed. In the era of superhero films, this is wonderful - and entirely appropriate for what is, in the end, a love song to the people of Puerto Rico, whose own love and hospitality and acceptance is so vividly portrayed here. It is also a realistic novel. Not all endings are happy. Not all breakage is healed. this realism is what Antony John uses to begin MASCOT (HARPER/HARPERCOLLINS, 336 pp., $16.99; ages 8 to 12). A car accident has paralyzed Noah Savino, and his father, who died in the crash, was at fault.He has lost his sense of self, and he resents the endless therapy sessions that seem to lead nowhere. He fears that the only identity he now has is that of the pathetic kid in the wheelchair. Perhaps worse, he no longer belongs to his St. Louis Little League team. Noah was the star catcher who made the star pitcher so capable. Now, his old teammates mock him, and the pain of that is not particularly lessened by the fact that the new kid to whom Noah seems to have been attached is nicknamed "Double-Wide." Thus Noah begins his journey, knowing that he has lost himself and lost his team and lost his father. Everything, he thinks, is gone, and in his anger and hurt and despair, he embraces that loss. His bitterness will be his new identity. When a teacher rearranges an assignment toward Noah's interests, a lot more suddenly "becomes clear: today's baseball-themed work sheet wasn't for everyone. It was for me. A gift. An attempt to cheer me up. To get me talking again. To remind me of better times. And what did I do? Like a Cardinals fan catching an opponent's home-run ball, I threw it right back at him." The strength and beauty of this novel lie in the ways in which a community gathers around Noah, despite his bitterness. And here, Antony John is relentless in his honesty, for this is a community of broken people: his mother, who is already dealing with the grief of losing her husband; his neighbor, who has lost his spouse, and whom Noah resents for loving his mother; Alyssa, who sees past the wheelchair, but whom Noah had treated badly; DoubleWide, whose honesty and forthrightness bring startling clarity; and his coach's family, for whom Noah will become an instrument of forgiveness. You'll bawl at the ending, because it is so very real. The answer to the middle-grade question of whether we should be self-reliant individuals or part of a larger community is that, in the end, we become both. These three novels shine a light on how difficult it is for a middle-grade kiddo - for any of us - to come to that answer, and how much more difficult it is to embark on the journey that leads to that becoming. gary D. SCHMIDT'S latest book, "So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth's Long Walk Toward Freedom," will be published in September.
Publishers Weekly Review
One year ago, a car crash killed Noah's dad and left Noah, who was starting catcher for his Little League team, paraplegic. Noah goes through the motions of physical therapy and building a new life with just his mom, locking his feelings of anger and sadness behind his sarcasm. After new kid Dee-Dub (short for "Double Wide," a nickname inflicted due to his stature) arrives in Noah's seventh grade class, the two start hanging out. Then bully Logan mocks Noah in gym, and Alyssa, the one friend Noah permitted to visit him regularly after the accident, challenges Logan to a pitch-off, roping in Dee-Dub to be hitter and Noah to catch. Meanwhile, Noah's mom has started spending time with single neighbor Mr. Dillon, something Noah plans to stop. Through the chain reaction ignited by these events, Noah learns that while part of his life is over, another chapter-one that may be better than he'd imagined-has just begun. John (Five Flavors of Dumb) blends humor and heartache in this powerful, satisfying coming-of-age story that handles Noah's experience of paraplegia with honesty and sensitivity. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal Review
Gr 4-8-After a car crash kills his father and leaves Noah in a wheelchair, he is adjusting to the changes in his life and the way that those around him treat him differently. With the help of his longtime friend Alyssa and new friend Dee-Dub, Noah embarks on a series of hilarious challenges to beat the bully, drive away his mom's new love interest, and right other wrongs. This action-packed, humorous story contains well-developed, dynamic characters who are thoughtful and relatable. As Noah navigates his new reality, he encounters and eventually learns to manage both physical and emotional challenges. There are, however, some missteps in the depiction of daily life as a wheelchair user. For example, there are several scenes in which Noah's mom lifts his motorized wheelchair, a feat which would be nearly impossible, as motorized chairs are much too heavy for a single person to lift. Or, later, when he visits a multi-story house, no information is given in the text about how he navigates to the house or if and how he travels to the upper floors. The vocabulary and themes suggest this book is suited for upper elementary and middle school readers. It contains many relevant coming-of-age themes, such as dealing with bullies, loss, disability, first love, and forgiveness. VERDICT A solid purchase for medium and large collections.-Jenifer Pickens, Holmes Middle School, Alexandria, VA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Summary

This witty, heartfelt story about perseverance in the face of adversity is perfect for fans of R. J. Palacio, Cammie McGovern, and John David Anderson.

Noah Savino has been stuck in a wheelchair for months. He hates the way people treat him like he's helpless now. He's sick of going to physical therapy, where he isn't making any progress. He's tired of not having control over his own body. And he misses playing baseball--but not as much as he misses his dad, who died in the car accident that paralyzed Noah.

Noah is scared he'll never feel like his old self again. He doesn't want people to think of him as different for the rest of his life. With the help of family and friends, he'll have to throw off the mask he's been hiding behind and face the fears that have kept him on the sidelines if he ever wants to move forward.

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