Friday, May 14, 2021

Thanks a lot, Universe.

Lucas, Chad. Thanks a lot, Universe.
May 11th 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Brian has anxiety at the best of times. He manages at school, and was on the basketball team, but he craves quiet and finds navigating the hallways of middle school difficult. It doesn't help when jerks like Victor call him "Ghost" and poke fun at his quiet ways. Ezra doesn't have these problems. He was also on the basketball team, and has a core group of friends. Some of them, like Caleb, often make sexist or racist comments, but others like Kev and Ty are generally a good bunch. When Brian's life implodes and he and his younger brother end up in foster care, Brian's anxiety causes him to act out in school. His father, who is in danger of being arrested, contacts him through a friend and tells Brian that there is $10,000 in an account for him.  His social worker is less than understanding, but his teachers go to bat for him. One, Ms. McClelland, even takes him and his brother in. Ms. McClelland's husband was killed in the army, and their son Gabe, who is in high school, is very supportive of Brian. Gabe helps him through panic attacks, sleepless nights, and accepting the help that therapy provides. Ezra continues to be friends with Brian, even after he is suspended for punching his tormentor. Ezra knows that he is supportive in part because he has a crush on Brian, and is wary about letting him know lest it hurt their friendship. Will Brian's family be able to pull together enough to get the boys out of foster care, and will Ezra's newly announced identity affect his friendship with Brian?
Strengths: This is exactly the type of "sad" that my students crave: catastrophic family events that cause the children to get by on their own. Brian's emotions are understandable, and informative, especially for teachers who might have students who are in similar family circumstances. The teachers are exceptionally understanding, and model good behavior. Brian has to be punished, but it is in a thoughtful way. Ezra's emotions are well portrayed, and I liked that he had good support from his sister and from most of his friends. Even his friend who was a bit jerky treated him reasonably. The inclusion of basketball is always good. 
Weaknesses: This is perhaps a difference because of the current trend in books to explore race more thoroughly-- I sometimes was not sure what race a character was. Race was not much of an issue in the book, although there were some insensitive comments, and there were plenty of other things going on. Perhaps I was expecting the issue of race to be more involved because this was set in Canada, and I wasn't quite sure what the levels of diversity was. In my community, there are a wide variety of backgrounds. 
What I really think: This jumped right in to the family problems, which will firmly keep student interest well into the book, and Ezra's crush isn't discussed at length until about half way through the book. At that point, readers will be invested in what happens to both him and Brian. This is, sadly, really important when it comes to gay characters. I still have boys who will use the term "gay" negatively, and have to be instructed about how hurtful this is. They often have no idea what they are really saying. Perhaps for this reason, while the girls in my school frequently ask for LGBTQIA+ titles, the boys are reluctant to pick them up. This was similar to Pancholy's The Best at It, in that the main character's coming out wasn't central to the story, but just part of the emerging story line. The readers who don't want to read about gay characters are the ones who should be reading about them, and this is an excellent book to promote positive behaviors and understanding. A good companion to Jung's Boys in the Back Row

Ms. Yingling

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