Easily angered Jair picks a fight with outsider Zander in a compassionate and efficiently told tale.
Berated by his father and responsible for his two younger siblings, Jair takes comfort in the fact that pretty, popular Keisha has just chatted with him online. When Zander, a new kid from LA, shows up at school wearing aqua and purple clothing and immediately gains Keisha’s attention, Jair decides Zander needs “to be taught a lesson.” The story is told from both teens’ perspectives, and in Zander’s chapters, readers see a different story: The son of an Air Force colonel and a mother deployed to Afghanistan, Zander has moved repeatedly from place to place, is constantly picked on for being a new kid and has developed fighting skills to keep the bullies away. Trying to turn over a new leaf, Zander tries his hardest to refuse to fight Jair; when Jair corners him, however, Zander wins their fight, and Jair leaves humiliated. Complicated and timely topics, from cyberbullying to homophobia, are treated carefully here. Jair’s decision to seek out a gun to prove his toughness feels at once believable and dangerous, but this is no scare-’em-straight story. Instead, the tension between Jair and Zander resolves in a way that feels true to their characters and avoids both melodrama and triteness.
Simple and powerful. (Fiction. 12-16)