Not an Easy Win

Random. Feb. 2023. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780593175217.
Gr 3-7–This empowering sophomore novel from Giles skillfully depicts a combination of tween topics rarely seen: the challenges and joys of growing up in a multigenerational household, persevering with an absent or incarcerated parent, and the very real struggle of identifying and expressing one’s emotions. Lawrence has just moved from Charlotte, NC, and a school that was mostly Black to rural Larenville to live with his granny. His ma and sister Nikko are also missing his father, who has been in and out of prison, but they know living with Granny is their best shot at making it. Lawrence gets expelled for fighting in an almost all-white school and Granny says, “a man that doesn’t work doesn’t eat.” She’s hard on him, but he pushes himself to connect to Mr. Dennis, who helps run an after-school rec club. There Lawrence finishes his seventh-grade year online and learns competitive chess. It’s a mind game, living with all this shame and embarrassment, but chess teaches him to harness this power to win and to build a caring circle of family and friends. He develops his first crush on confident Twyla and finds that Deuce, the kid who was hardest on him at first, becomes his good friend. The rising action is long, but it helps readers empathize with Lawrence. The climax and resolution are quick but satisfying. Giles writes confidently about too-often misunderstood boys who act out aggressively, and satisfactorily shows the power of logic and mental strength to win. Readers will learn the value of telling their stories.
VERDICT This is an all-consuming read about a young Black boy finding community and purpose. Essential middle grade and tween realistic reading.

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