Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.



A short, empathetic novel for middle-schoolers that addresses learning disabilities and bullying.

Retired teacher Spurr’s prior experience with learning-disabled children shines as she compassionately illustrates the world of Jamie Parker and the way dyslexia affects his everyday life. Jamie’s learned much from his fisherman father (who isn’t a great reader but has a wealth of practical knowledge about nature), but still doesn’t understand why his dad is so adamant that Jamie focus on schoolwork. School is difficult for Jamie–dyslexia not only makes coursework a challenge, but he is subjected to the bullying of Ray Quinn. He would far rather spend the day on his dad’s boat than in the classroom. Jamie’s first year of middle school promises to be the same as all the others–special reading classes, abuse from Ray and stress headaches–with the exception of finding a friend in newcomer Oscar. Over the course of several months, Jamie grows as he experiences success on the soccer field, collaborates on an interesting research project with Oscar and realizes the unfortunate circumstances that motivate Ray’s behavior. Oscar and Jamie have complementary skills in school and learn a great deal about Native Americans for an important social studies project, as well as learn a difficult lesson about bullying when their project disappears, leaving them with the threat of failing their class. When Jamie’s dog Mac has an accident, Ray plays a pivotal role, and because of this new bond, the relationship among the three boys is transformed. The book contains age-appropriate vocabulary and natural dialogue, with likable characters that help flesh out the absorbing plot. Readers learn about human behavior as the book opens topics–including disabilities, families and the local environment–for further discussion.

Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-595-43915-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

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A well-crafted and engaging tale about a quartet of teens dealing with self-doubt and self-discovery in high school.


The 10th grade brings big changes in the lives of four teenagers.

In this YA sequel, hardworking Luke—labeled poor white trash by bullies and the stern father of his supportive, caring Mexican-American girlfriend, Mia—is enjoying some academic success (although he’s still math-challenged). But his home situation with an abusive, alcoholic father and frail mother is about to reach a crisis point. While Mia is at the top of her class and is as industrious as poignant Luke, she feels even more parental pressure to excel and wonders how long she’ll be able to keep her father from finding out that the two teens are dating. Well-to-do black star athlete Marcus, after a humbling comedown in the first installment of the series, is gradually finding value in school, his teammates, and a girl who appreciates his new attitude. Bright Elly, a white girl whose parents have plenty of money, too, gains confidence in her looks, but her struggle with self-respect is evident in her choice of bad-news boyfriends. Ingram (Ninth Grade Blues, 2017, etc.), a high school English teacher, gives each of these four main characters an authentic, distinct voice, smoothly shifting back and forth among the teens’ first-person perspectives as events unfold over their sophomore year. Their experiences include parental physical abuse, bullying, alcohol-fueled partying, dating insecurities, a serious injury, deepening romantic relationships, unexpected friendships, and knowledge gained through academic and life lessons. As he did in his first book, Ingram has the teens cope with both admirable and flawed adults (including teachers) and issues involving peer pressure and support, love, and respect. There is no graphic content, but the teens, now a year older, believably wrestle with increased independence, more overt sexual awareness, exposure to risky behaviors, and thoughts of the future. As the school year ends, the author leaves the characters’ appealing and relatable stories open-ended, presumably to be continued in his next volume spanning the 11th grade.

A well-crafted and engaging tale about a quartet of teens dealing with self-doubt and self-discovery in high school.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944962-46-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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In 1880s New York, a young lad with inadequate means but an abundance of character uses his head, heart, and fists to battle his way out of the tenements. Johnny Woods works 12 hours a day at a sweatshop ironing men’s shirts. Since his father deserted his mother and five younger brothers and sisters, this 15-year-old youngster has valiantly toiled to help put bread on the table. Desperate for some extra cash, he signs up to box in a bar, only to get arrested—fighting was then illegal—and thrown into prison. In an unexpected twist, it’s the best thing that ever happened to him. There he meets Michael O’Shaunnessey, “Professor of the Science of Boxing,” and a “born teacher.” Returning home fit and trained, Johnny finds a paucity of job opportunities for politically unconnected and uneducated youths like himself, except in the boxing ring. There he soon piles up an impressive string of victories. Hard-working and kind, Johnny returns to school, spending his meager spare time with his five siblings, giving them by turn the treat of his undivided attention. Karr’s first-person narrative is fast-paced and instantly engrossing, and she captures her character’s dreams and dilemmas as well as the rhythm and excitement of the boxing matches, and the scenes, scents, and squalor of tenement life. Although Johnny is a little too good to be true, readers should be rooting for the kid with the killer punch and the soul of a Boy Scout both in and out of the ring. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-30921-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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