A video game–obsessed middle schooler tackles his third new school in two years.
Josh Baxter has had a hard time since his father died. His mother works around the clock, and his older sister has thrown herself into school, sports, and the social scene. Josh finds refuge in the video games he and his father played together, letting his social life and grades fall by the wayside. When an abysmal progress report makes Josh's mom lock his consoles in her closet, Josh has no choice but to grapple with his crummy middle school experience. Brown paints Josh's middle school as if it were a hazardous level of “Star Fox,” filling the novel with references to video game culture, leaning particularly hard on Nintendo imagery. The author also wisely pushes the overused bully storyline to the background. This isn't yet another story of a weird kid standing up to a bully. This is the much more interesting story of a kid standing up to the worst aspects of himself. The author paces the book like a “Legend of Zelda” quest, complete with sages, allies, and a damsel. These tertiary characters are more complex than simple avatars, fleshed out with just enough inner life that they aren't completely subservient to Josh's arc and providing some multiethnic counterpoint to white-kid Josh.
Smartly paced and emotionally engaging, a book even those who have never held a controller will enjoy. (Fiction. 10-14)