This coming-of-age story about diverse characters coming to grips with their layered identities rings true.

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An Indian American boy struggles with his sexuality and mental health while finding a place for himself in seventh grade.

Rahul Kapoor may not be sure about his sexuality, but he is sure of one thing: This year, he wants to make an impression. Inspired by a story his grandfather tells him, Rahul decides that the best way to impress his classmates—and, in the process, to protect himself from bullies—is to pick something and be the best at it. With the help of his fiery best friend, Chelsea, a white girl who wisely, consistently steers Rahul toward being himself and doing what he loves, Rahul tries a number of activities before settling on Mathletes, where he soon becomes a star. But when Japanese American Jenny asks him to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and when his Mathletes career doesn’t go as planned, Rahul spirals into an anxious depression with symptoms of OCD that force him to confront and eventually accept exactly who he is. In his author’s note, Pancholy notes that Rahul’s story is semiautobiographical, and it shows. Every character in the story is nuanced and sympathetically rendered, and the book does not shy away from racism, sexism, ableism, or homophobia. The protagonist’s devastatingly honest voice pulls readers deeply into a fast-paced journey riddled with heartbreakingly authentic moments of anxiety, confusion, and triumph.

This coming-of-age story about diverse characters coming to grips with their layered identities rings true. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-286641-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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