spot as goalie for the school soccer team and
his friendship with Tyler, the school heart-
throb. This tenuous position begins to fall
apart when Tyler begins alienating every-
one, endangering both his friendship with
Ben and the team’s trip to
the state championship.
Enter Ilona Pierce, a foul-
mouthed misfit who helps
Ben understand that all of
us are freaks of nature, and
that Tyler’s actions may
be hiding a deeper pain.
Kaufman breathes heart
and grit into a story of friendship, empathy,
and acceptance. Her command of teen dia-
logue is masterful, and she is able to deftly
juggle such topics as sexual abuse and eco-
nomic disparity without being preachy or
didactic. Kaufman does the hard work of
portraying nuanced, complex characters who
defy simple categories: Ben is at once an out-
sider and a stud athlete. Tyler looks and talks
like a popular kid, but wears that mask to
hide his inner turmoil. Ilona is a rebel who
still cares for her mother, despite their dif-
ferences. Packed with depth, joy, and hope,
Kaufman’s book is ultimately a story of how
to be a friend—a topic that is always pre-
scient for young adults. —Reinhardt Suarez
By Eric Howling.
2016. 176p. Orca, paper, $9.95 (9781459812253). Gr. 5–8.
When the Southside Saints football team
loses funding due to budget cuts, they think
their chances are over, until they get sponsored by Fort Sports, a local sporting goods
store that donates $20,000 worth of equipment, uniforms, and field repairs in exchange
for letting the company’s president coach the
team. At first the team is on board, but it
soon becomes clear that Coach Fort is a racist bully who claims the spotlight for himself.
Is there a way for the Saints to sack the coach
without losing everything, or does he simply
have too much control? Orca Sports can always be depended on to deliver quick reads
with high-stakes situations, detailed sports
events, and clear moral lessons, and this
book is no different. Coach Fort is a bit of
a caricature, there is little nuance or layering
to the characters, and the ending borrows
too heavily from Varsity Blues. And yet this
remains an empowering read for reluctant-reader football fans who want to see athletes
rise to the occasion. —Becca Worthington
By Jason Reynolds.
2016. 192p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy, $16.99
(9781481450157). Gr. 5–8.
Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw has been run-
ning for three years, ever since the night
his father shot a gun at him and his moth-
er. When he gets recruited by a local track
coach for a championship team, they strike
a deal: if Ghost can stop getting into fights
at school, he can run for the Defenders,
but one altercation and
he’s gone. Despite Ghost’s
best intentions, every-
one always has something
to say about his raggedy
shoes, homemade haircut,
ratty clothes, or his neigh-
borhood, and he doesn’t last
24 hours without a brawl.
Will Coach and his mom give him another
chance to be part of something bigger than
himself, or is he simply destined to explode?
With his second fantastic middle-grade nov-
el of the year (As Brave as You, 2016), the
ferociously talented Reynolds perfectly cap-
tures both the pain and earnest longing of a
young boy. The first in the four-book Track
series, this is raw and lyrical, and as funny as
it is heartbreaking. It tackles issues such as
theft, bullying, and domestic violence with
candor and bravery, while opening a door for
empathy and discussion. An absolute must-
read for anyone who has ever wondered how
fast you must be to run away from yourself.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Is anyone
else putting out so many stellar books so
quickly? The author of The Boy in the Black
Suit and All American Boys (both 2015)
keeps dashing along.
Last Man Out.
By Mike Lupica.
Sept. 2016. 256p. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399172793).
Lupica stirs equal quantities of grief and
gridiron action into his latest outing. Tommy Gallagher, 12-year-old star strong safety
on the Brighton Bears, is devastated when
his wonderful, worshiped firefighter dad
dies in the course of a rescue. The tragedy
occurs during the second game of a season
that features one suspenseful contest after
another, leaving Tommy struggling both on
and off the field, while trying to be there as
best he can for his mom and his withdrawn
little sister. Lupica effectively puts readers
into the center of the action, both during
games and at home with the undemonstrative but deeply emotional Gallagher family.
Eventually Tommy, who has discovered that
skateboarding provides a good outlet for his
repressed feelings, winds up with a separated
shoulder that keeps him out of the championship game. But even from the sidelines,
he manages to make a key contribution to
the game, and in the best traditions of sports
writing, this will leave readers both breathless and thoughtful. —John Peters
A Long Pitch Home.
By Natalie Dias Lorenzi.
Sept. 2016. 256p. Charlesbridge, $16.95
(9781580897136). Gr. 4–7.
When 10-year-old Bilal moves from Paki-
stan to Virginia, it’s not just his favorite
sport—cricket—that he misses but also his
much beloved father, who had to temporar-
ily stay behind. His older cousin suggests
Bilal join the baseball team in order to make
new friends and learn English, but baseball
isn’t anything like cricket! To make matters
worse, there’s a girl on the team who’s better
than everyone, drawing the team’s wrath, but
Bilal actually likes her. How can he adjust
to a new sport, a new language, and a new
culture while waiting for his dad to join the
family? This sensitive middle-grade novel is
an excellent introduction to cricket, culture
shock, and what life may be like for some
recent immigrants. Bilal’s diverse friends are
somewhat refreshingly more concerned with
the fact that there’s a girl on their team than
his heritage. Although the ending is predict-
able, for fans of Firoozeh Dumas’ It Ain’t So
Awful, Falafel (2016) and readers looking for
a sports book with heart, this will be a home
run. —Erin Linsenmeyer
The Mighty Dynamo.
By Kieran Crowley.
Sept. 2016. 368p. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99
(9781250079244). Gr. 4–8.
Since Noah’s mother died, his family has
been in a financial crisis. Now, his father, desperate for work, has to head off to Australia
for almost a year, leaving Noah and his older
sister to cope with his absence. Noah hopes
that, if he can just attract the attention of a
scout, he could sign a soccer contract and help
out the family’s finances. When he is falsely
accused of starting a fight on the soccer field,
his hopes seem all but dashed. But Noah is no
quitter, and his friends aren’t either; together,
they come up with a plan that’s ingenious,
and maybe even a bit crazy. Reminiscent
of Gordon Korman’s The Zucchini Warriors
(1988), this is more than a sports story. It
tackles issues of bullying, sexism, and corruption without ever losing focus on Noah and
his mates. Noah and his friends are well-crafted, multidimensional characters, as are the
caring adults who try to help out Noah and
his fledgling team. — Teri Lesesne
By Christine Kendall.
Oct. 2016. 224p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545924047);
e-book, $16.99 (9780545924061). Gr. 4–7.
At 13, Troy isn’t a bad kid, but when he
and his best friend, Foster, get into trouble,
the punishment isn’t what they expected:
they’re sent to a stable in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park to muck stalls and take care of
horses. No one is more surprised than Troy
when he loves it, or when it turns out that
he has an aptitude for polo, a sport African
American Troy always thought was only for
rich white kids. His newfound passion is not
without problems, though; Troy clashes both
with other kids at the barn and with Foster,
who feels abandoned. Although the characterizations sometimes verge on stereotype,
this is a thoughtful glance into a difficult
world, and Kendall handles delicate situa-