Joseph, white and Jewish, has ADD, is clumsy and phobic, and seems to be a magnet for middle school bullies.
Heather, the new girl, is white, very tall, and athletically gifted. They may seem an odd pair, but they share a common problem: they don’t fit in. At the urging of his Resource Room teacher, Joseph joins the new cross-country team right along with Heather—the one most likely a last-place finisher of races and the other the almost-certain winner. But each needs support that the other provides. Heather is dealing with an unengaged mother who is on an extended trip to Hawaii, leaving her feeling rejected and vulnerable (although perhaps a bit more than might be expected of such a seemingly grounded girl). Joseph long ago decided to take the path of least resistance to life’s many hardships (and bullies.) As he says, “They multiply, and they find you, and they always, always win.” He’s pretty surprised by Heather’s willingness to fight back, especially when she punches his worst tormentor. Joseph’s first-person voice is fresh and authentic, and his character arc is immensely satisfying. Persevering because Heather inspires him to, eventually he begins to learn some valuable lessons on living in his own skin even as he challenges himself to be more than he thought he could be.
Joseph’s journey turns out to be an amazing and deeply rewarding transformation. (Fiction. 10-14)