Deuker, Carl. Gutless
September 6th 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Brock is a good kid, and a good athlete, and he's struggling with some difficult things in his life. His father has a progressive neuromuscular disorder, which might explain why he is drawn to star quarterback, Hunter Gates. Hunter is a huge jerk, but his father is always by his side, throwing him passes in the park and on the sidelines at every game. Brock occasionally plays with them at the park, and it is Mr. Gates who encourages Brock to try out for the football team. Brock does pretty well, but he doesn't want to get hit. He feels like a coward in some other parts of his life as well. He's decent friends with new kid Richie Fong, but doesn't always show his support for Richie. Richie's family is from China, his mother is dying of cancer, and Richie is frequently picked on by Hunter Gates. There are times when Brock could have interfered, but he feels powerless to speak up. When things really heat up, however, will Brock be able to gather his intestinal fortitude and step in when it is most important?
This novel spans several years and sports seasons, both football and soccer, for Brock. This is important to our understanding of what is going on in Brock's world and mind, and how he deals with things. At first, his father's diagnosis is horrifying, but Brock is able to reestablish his relationship with his father and find new activities, like chess, to do with him. It's also important to see how Hunter's performance on the field affects his relationship with his father, the pressure put on him, and how he takes his own frustrations on Richie.
Richie was a heartbreakingly real character. Funny, outspoken, and tremendously talented, he becomes a target for bullying because of the very qualities that make him interesting and vibrant. The friendship between him and Brock is also sadly realistic; I think that boys in particular are often too caught up in their own misery to seek out the support they need from those closet to them.
As always, Deuker's sports descriptions are excellent, and I appreciated that he had both football and soccer. Few books cover multiseason athletes, and having Richie also have soccer skills that transfer to football was brilliant.
While this is more of a young adult book due to the introspective nature of the story, it is appropriate for younger readers who are looking for a sports story with more depth than typical middle grade sports fare. Hand this one to football players, soccer players, Future City designers, and any reader who has ever contemplated just how far one should go to help a friend.
MacHale, D.J. Curse of the Boggin (The Library, Book 1)
September 6th 2016 by Random House Books for Young
Copy provided by the publisher
Marcus can be a difficult child, but when he sees ghosts in school and is haunted by an old lady demanding "Surrender the key!", he's not trying to be difficult. It's hard to explain to his parents, who are irritated with him about his multiple detentions and general disobedience, but he does enlist the help of his friends Lu and Theo. When he realizes that a man who recently died in the city is the same man he's been seeing in his visions, Marcus goes to talk to his widow and son. There, he finds that the deceased man, Michael, was good friends with his biological mother and father and was interested in paranormal investigation. Michael has left a key for Marcus, and brings the creepy old lady right to his door. Marcus finds that the key can be used in any door and takes him to the Library, which is run by the ghost Everett. He informs Marcus and his friends that the Boggin needs the key to destroy the library, and if it does so, then there are many stories that will never be finished. Can Marcus manage to neutralize the boggin?
Strengths: Creepy books are always popular, and this has many of MacHale's fine touches in it. There is a great back story about why the boggin wants the key, and about the interplay between Marcus's biological parents and his real one. Marcus is a typically flawed middle school student with impulse control issues, and his friends are a multicultural (Asian and black), a fact which MacHale even mentions ("we looked like the cast of some kids' show trying to cover all its ethnic bases. It would be a grand slam if we had a Hispanic friend. Or maybe a Tongan.") I also love the fact that while this will be a series, MacHale has said that the books needn't be read in order. Perfect.
Weaknesses: I was a bit unclear as to whether Marcus knew he was adopted. It didn't seem like he knew at first, but it was never discussed.
What I really think: I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series, starting with Black Moon Rising. The deliciously creepy cover will help this fly off the shelves!