Paul, Big, and Small

Shadow Mountain. Oct. 2019. 336p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781629726021.
Gr 7-10–Paul is hardly five feet tall and only 100 pounds dripping wet, which makes him the perfect target for the animals in high school, but he survives by sticking to the outer edges of the hallways. When Paul enters his language arts class, he encounters Lily Small, a tall, athletic black girl, and Big, a triple-X Hawaiian shirt–wearing Polynesian. The trio are partnered up for a project on Of Mice and Men, discussing mental illness in the early 1900s. Little does Paul know, this assignment is the seed for the strongest friendships he has ever had. Through this project and at the local rock climbing gym, Paul, who is white, learns to recognize others’ issues that cause them to pick on those weaker than themselves, and discovers that being small isn’t always a weakness. While much of the book focuses on the mental strength and physical agility necessary to be a successful climber, the subplots demonstrate how this sport can provide the therapy needed to overcome bullying, grief, and trauma. Big is the teddy bear character who only seems to find the beauty in everyone and everything, from dandelions growing in the sidewalk to ants carrying chips back to their nests.
VERDICT This book shows how friendships can be found when least expected. Perfect for libraries building their sports collections, as it clearly explains the fundamentals of rock climbing not often found in other YA books.

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