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by Mike Castan

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2348-4
Publisher: Holiday House

Middle school proves particularly difficult for Javier when he is assigned to spend time helping students in the special-education program.

Javier is about to enter middle school in a small California town with little to offer. He lives with his mother, who struggles with finances and drugs, and sometimes his father, when he is between jail stints. Javier and his friends are expected to be in a gang and constantly work to prove their toughness. Javier also knows enough to hide that he likes to read and how much he wants to avoid trouble. When he is given a service assignment working with special-education students, Javier is dismayed because it means more taunts and teasing. He does not expect his work reading with severely disabled Dontae to change him and provide a level of connection that has been missing in his life. This story, simple in both language and characterization, demonstrates the inevitability of a future on the margins for minority males without some help staying on track. His father is able to articulate it even as he is powerless to change. “I mean, it’s easy to say you want to do something, but can you see the path? Shoot, man. I wanted to do a lot of things, but I had no idea how to even start. And then sometimes you do see the path, but it gets blurry again.”

Reluctant teen readers will identify with Javier’s efforts to negotiate a world with few positive options.

(Fiction 11-13)