If middle school were a race, Joseph Friedman wouldn’t even be in last place—he’d be on the sidelines. With an overactive mind and phobias of everything from hard-boiled eggs to gargoyles, he struggles to understand his classes, let alone his fellow classmates. So he spends most of his time avoiding school bully Charlie Kastner and hiding out in the Resource Room, a safe place for misfit kids like him.

But then, on the first day of seventh grade, two important things happen. First, his Resource Room teacher encourages (i.e., practically forces) him to join the school track team, and second, he meets Heather, a crazy-fast runner who isn’t going to be pushed around by Charlie Kastner or anybody else. With a new friend and a new team, Joseph finds himself off the sidelines and in the race (quite literally) for the first time. Is he a good runner? Well, no, he’s terrible. But the funny thing about running is, once you're in the race, anything can happen.--from the publisher

240 pages    978-1419726019    Ages 9-13


Joseph is having a tough time in middle school. He's small for his age and suffers from ADHD enough that he spends time each day in the resource room. When his teacher there, Mrs. T., suggests that he run cross country, he is skeptical, but when he sees Heather doing well at running, he thinks it might be okay.

This is the first year for the team, so it's very small, but Mrs. T. is the coach. Joseph isn't fast, but he keeps running, and keeps thinking about his personal best. He becomes friends with Heather, whose mother is off in Hawaii studying flowers and doesn't want to come home. The two make an unlikely pair but look out for each other.

When Heather is elbowed in the woods, Joseph makes sure that the boy who did it is eventually found out. Joseph also makes peace with another runner who has given him a hard time, Charlie, which is a good thing, since they will be together for indoor winter track and track in the spring. There is an interesting side story involving Joseph's grandfather, who lives with the family, and the quirky, older librarian.

Strengths: This was a good debut effort and showed a decent knowledge of cross country. There were lots of good details (Yep, the boys pee in the woods! We call it "I dropped my watch.") and it was nice to see a strong female character. Good length, no major flaws.

Weaknesses: The editor's note at the beginning was extremely offputting. It's 2017. "A boy cannot be small weak and terrible at track... A girl cannot be big, tough, and lightning fast like Heather." Since when? While I am glad that Heather is the fastest runner, her description as a very tall, larger girl doesn't make much sense. The fastest girls in middle and high school are usually very small. Our girls' team is hugely better than the boys, and it's not an issue. It 1982, maybe, it would be an issue. Joseph is identified as having ADHD, but many of his behaviors make me wonder if his issues arise more from being on the autism spectrum.There was also a weird scene in the book where Joseph sees a teammate being stared at by the other runners, and the teammate says that it's because he's black and the others think he will be fast. That just seemed odd. These are small quibbles with a good story. I suspect that Asher watched her children run rather than coaching a team.

What I Really think: Will definitely purchase.

Reviewed by Karen Yingling, Library Media Specialist, Ohio USA

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