Friday, July 31, 2020

Dan Unmasked

Negron, Chris. Dan Unmasked
July 28th 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dan and Nate are the best of friends. They are on the Mira Giants baseball team together, and have a group of friends who regularly gather in Nate's basement when the newest George Sanderson Captain Nexus comic books are released. Nate is a great guy, always sticking up for his younger brother, Ollie, who is a bit geekier. Sometimes it seems like Nate is TOO nice to Ollie, like when Ollie brings Courtney to the basement to read the newest comic. Not only does Courtney not follow the clearly posted rules, but she doesn't keep the comics in mint condition. That's a small quibble, however, when Nate is beaned by a baseball during a game and suffers a traumatic brain injury. He ends up in the hospital in a medically induced coma. Dan feels that it is his fault, and is desperate to make things right. He even teams up with Courtney to help her finish a comic book, a take off on Captain Nexus, that she and Ollie had started and wanted to give to Nate on his upcoming birthday. Dan feels that if they can complete the comic and use it win the Tall Ship Captain Nexus Fan Art competition, that will help wake Nate up. He also hopes to inspire the Giants to win their tournament in order to wake Nate up, even though they are having a lot of trouble keeping men on the field. When the entry wins, and George Sanderson himself shows up to tell Ollie about it, Dan is flabbergasted to meet the artist himself. Not only has he loved the comic books, but he and his father, who is a very busy architect, had started a bike trail inspired by Nexus' universe in the woods near their house. Sanderson is not a young man, and his past holds some very painful secrets. As Dan, Courtney, and Ollie work to help their friend wake up, they also help Sanderson come to terms with his own backstory, which closely mirrors Captain Nexus'. In the process, Dan becomes closer to his father, and learns that friendship is a powerful force, even when it's hard to believe that it is.
Strengths: I am not really a fan of baseball OR of superheroes, but my students ARE, and this was the perfect amalgamation of both. Alternating those two interests helped the story moving along. The wishful thinking exhibited by Dan is so typical of middle school students, and his dedication to helping his friend, even though there was really nothing he could do, was touching. I adored the food inspector mother and all of her warnings about different restaurants, and the subplot with the father's work keeping him busy was surprisingly touching. George Sanderson's story added an intriguing and darker layer to this as well. This was a somewhat unusual story, and the writing was strong. I'll be very interested to see future books from this author, especially if they can combine football or basketball with deeper issues!
Weaknesses: A lot of other friends were mentioned at the beginning and not really developed. I kept trying to keep them straight and couldn't, so was a little relieved when we didn't hear about them as much.
What I really think: This might be my Cybils Award nomination for 2020. There's sports and comic books, which kids will love, but also a very deep and moving portrayal of a difficult and emotional epoch in a young man's life. Combined with the cover (a baseball mitt AND superheroes!), this will be a great choice for readers who want a fast-paced, interesting book that also sneaks in some emotional depth. Hand this to fans of either baseball or comics, or readers who enjoyed  Graff's Lost in the Sun and Northrop's Plunked.

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment