The Best at It

Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2019. 336p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062866417.
Gr 3-7–When rising seventh grader Rahul Kapoor panics about fitting in at middle school, his grandfather tells him to find something he’s really good at and be the best at it. But Rahul finds that difficult. Could he be the best at football? At acting? At math? Adding to Rahul’s anxiety, his macho Indian uncles keep suggesting that he might be gay, and neighborhood bully Brent taunts him about it, too. Rahul’s struggles will resonate with many kids. He works hard to come to terms with liking boys while having anxiety about being good at things, being well liked, and being Indian American in a small, predominantly white town. Rahul is a compelling protagonist, and his challenges ring true. Sometimes Pancholy talks around topics: though the book ends with Rahul coming out to his friends and family, his being gay was only previously mentioned in vague terms, primarily as an insult from Brent. Similarly, though Rahul exhibits some signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, they are only briefly addressed near the end, when Rahul’s dad decides to take him to a therapist. While the writing is always engaging, it is at times challenging to hold on to the many narrative threads.
VERDICT Hand this to middle grade readers who are navigating changing social dynamics as they come of age.

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