192p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Sept. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524740559.
OrangeReviewStarGr 4–7—The complex emotional lives of young boys of color are portrayed through a nascent friendship. Bryan is constantly teased for being "soft," thanks to his preference for comics, drawing, and spending quiet moments with his mom. Through his mother's work at a Brooklyn community center, he meets Mike, an older, "harder" schoolmate whom he's never socialized with before and is apprehensive about befriending. Slowly, Bryan finds they have much in common and begins spending more time with Mike. When Bryan's recently paroled father is re-incarcerated, Mike offers him an emotional outlet in the form of ditching school, the first of several exploits the pair undertake. Pushing of boundaries as an emotional response to trauma, vulnerability, and societal pressures is an overarching theme of the novel, pressing readers to consider the impetus of what is deemed "bad behavior." Regrettably, Mike, who faces many of the same emotional struggles and home life difficulties as Bryan, is not allotted the same degree of sympathy. Maldonado, however, excels at depicting realistic and authentic interactions between middle school boys.
VERDICT An excellent addition to libraries with fans of David Barclay Moore's The Stars Beneath Our Feet, Jason Reynolds's Ghost, and character-driven realistic fiction.

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