Looks may not be everything, but few high-school students would deny that physical appearance is connected to self-esteem and social standing. Zephaniah (Refugee Boy, p. 814) explores this theme wherein Martin, a good-looking, confident youngster, is burned and facially disfigured during a car crash. After a prolonged, somewhat tedious setup that introduces Martin and his world and then delineates his hospital stay, Zephaniah gets to the meat of his story—how Martin's altered face affects his feelings about himself and his relationships with others. Martin proves to be a champion survivor, attending classes as soon as he's physically able, then joining and becoming the captain of the school gymnastics team. A devastating experience—he's surrounded by group of younger kids who viciously taunt him about his looks—temporarily drives Martin off the team and back to the safety of his room. But he soon finds the courage to soldier on, leading his team in a freestyle gymnastic routine of his own devise. By showing up and competing at the tournament, he learns that, "It's not the winning that matters . . . it's the being here." It's a strong idea, but the story, which is set in Britain, never feels like it's plumbed the depths of the situation fully. The exposition is stilted, Martin's adjustment is too easy, and the author, by over-explaining how Martin feels and what he's learned, doesn't allow the reader to experience his situation viscerally. Nonetheless, a worthy subject that should give kids plenty to think about. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
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