Moore, Wes with Shawn Goodman. This Way Home
November 10th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Elijah is good at basketball, and hopes that it will be his ticket to a college scholarship so he can escape his rough Baltimore neighborhood. When he and his friends form a team to play in a big tournament, he is a bit worried when his friend Michael finds a "sponsor" for them who provides expensive shoes and clothes, but he has other things to worry about. His mother has arranged for him to help Mr. Banks, an ex-military man, fix up his house. Banks is a hard task master, but Elijah is not one to give up. He breaks up chunks of concrete, moves dirt, and always shows up on time for work. He forges an unsteady friendship with Banks, who also can handle the gang members in the neighborhood. It doesn't hurt that Banks' daughter is smart, attractive, and interested in Elijah. When Elijah's mother tells the team that they have to ditch the gang sponsorship, the boys do... and tragedy ensues. Can Elijah manage to hold on to his dreams of basketball and escaping his neighborhood?
Strengths: Students will adore this. Basketball, gangs, all sorts of things they like to read about (The 7th grade just finished The Outsiders, so they all want books about gangs now!). I liked that it had supportive parents and community and a good message. Also, I hope that readers who enjoy this will pick up The Other Wes Moore.
Weaknesses: Sad to think that gangs really do exist and that they are a problem. The cover isn't great. I wish the basketball were more clearly visible.
What I really think: Glad to add this to my collection of sports books. Don't know how I missed it at first.
Johnson, Varian. To Catch a Cheat
January 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Jackson and his friends are caught on video flooding the school bathrooms-- only they didn't do it! Gaby and Jackson have an alibi that will get them in even worse trouble, so when Rob and Thom offer them a deal-- the video destroyed if they can get a copy of the history exam--they embark on an elaborate scheme to get the test, even though they do not want to cheat themselves. There are all sorts of grudges, kids with mad tech skills, misguided but well meaning security guards and principals and even a little kissing as Jackson and his Gang Green try to stay out of trouble while implicating the students who are actually trying to cheat.
Strengths: When Jackson is not convincing someone to hack into a system, he's an interesting kid. His relationship with Gaby is sweet and age appropriate, and it's especially interesting since he is friends with her brother. I also liked that she was on the girls' basketball team and had to miss some of the sneaking around because she had games.
Weaknesses: This was even more unbelievable than The Great Green Heist for me. Since I am our building tech person, if something went this wrong with the video surveillance system, I'd be brought in on it, and I have never met a student who is this tech savvy. I could excuse the breach with reality, but there are so many details about exactly what the crew needs to do with the tech that the story got a bit slow. If there is another book, I'd like to see more of a focus on Jackson's middle school life and less about scams.
What I really think: Will buy a copy, since I have three of the first book and they circulate well.