Fifteen-year-old Zeke gets a job and becomes involved with community organizers who aim to unionize local food-service workers in this novel in verse for reluctant readers.
Zeke hates their lives in the city with Paul, his alcoholic mom’s abusive boyfriend, a hypocritical Christian, and he misses his old home in small-town Wisconsin. Spurred to action by the idea of making enough money for them to move back, he takes a job at Casa de Pizza, where he comes to understand the desperate circumstances many of his minimum-wage–earning co-workers face. Zeke keeps the job secret, fearing Paul will try to steal his earnings. Pagelong free-verse poems evocatively describe Zeke’s experiences and quickly propel the story forward. The dynamics between the employees at Casa de Pizza (Zeke and several others are white, Timothy is black, Hannah is originally from Oaxaca) will be recognizable to teens who’ve worked in food service. Readers will easily sympathize with the all-too-true-to-life situations with which the characters are coping—racism and sexual harassment, Zeke’s awful home life, and a co-worker’s eviction with her children among them. Though short, this story develops the characters’ personalities, sketches in the history of the labor movement, and includes a subdued romantic subplot, effectively balancing these various elements.
An auspicious ending may seem a bit unlikely to some, but this novel has many appealing aspects that will draw readers in. (Fiction. 12-18)