Berend, Janet Eoff. Vertical
28 August 2012, Breakaway Books
Copy received from author.
Josh is not a huge fan of school because it takes up time he could spend skateboarding with his friend Brendon. High school is complicated, though, and several things get in the way of his skateboarding. For one, he sees Lenny, a local skater thug, steal a woman's wallet. Lenny also roughs up younger skaters and shakes them down for money. Josh is struggling with is classes, so his parents limit his skating time and make him go for tutoring, even as Brendon is in danger of flunking out of school completely. Erin, a former girlfriend of Brendon's, seems interested in Josh, and as they work on several language arts projects together, she shows Josh that literature can be interesting as well as applicable to his own life. His tutor makes the connection between skateboarding and math, which also helps Josh see that school has some value. Just when things are looking a little brighter for Josh, he runs afoul of Lenny, with disastrous consequences.
Strengths: I have lamented frequently about the dearth of skateboarding books that are NOT about kids banding together to build a skate park-- this book is EXACTLY what my students want to read! There was a lot of skateboarding lingo and descriptions which I didn't quite grasp, even though there was a helpful glossary of terms, so readers who want to replicate the skating experience in a story will be pleased. The highlight of this is the voice-- Josh is snarky and disaffected, and even though he comes around to school a little, it's not an out-of-place epiphany. Even the bullying by Lenny is realistically described, which is very hard to pull off. While this is set in high school, it would be fine for middle school. The 120 page length is perfect.
Weaknesses: The high school librarian is shown reading the newspaper! With students in the library! Can't imagine that ever happening in my library!* While Berend strikes a good balance between Josh's hatred of school and his parents' insistence that it's important, it was a little uncomfortable for me to read his rants about how useless he thought it was. Students, however, will keep reading because of this. This is available in paperback from Follett-- having it available in prebind would be even better.
*Ms. Berend, who is an English teacher in California, says that this depiction was her way of showing her anger at her district cutting certified library staff. While the library aide in her building is wonderful, she says, it doesn't make up for lacking the skills that a professional librarian brings to the position!