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"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book."
Summary: Everybody loves Xavier Washington, he's the town's basketball hero. Not to his little brother Lamar, who bears the brunt of Xavier's anger and takes away all of Dad's attention. Mom thought Lamar was a superstar, but she's died and its just the three boys now, with Xavier sucking all the air! Lamar's escape is Striker's Bowling Paradise, where he is reigning king. When Lamar finds a sympathetic ear in Billy Jenks' his world is getting brighter ... or is it? This is a first-person story about growing up, family, and hard choices.
Type of Reading: family reading, anytime reading, independent reading, read aloud book, dormant reader
Recommended Age: read together: 9 to 12; read yourself: 10 and up
Young Reader Reaction: The content is rather mature for the recommended reader (8 years old). Should 8-year-olds worry about girlfriends? When you focus on the family theme and being involved in a sport that you enjoy, it is much better. The story describes the characters very vividly and in great detail.
I would recommend this book to a teen who has difficulty competing with siblings who have different interests, or who are not always the "favorite" of their parents. It is a good choice for a young man struggling to find their place in the pre-adult world. This book illustrates how to not allow anyone to prevent you from going after your dreams to be the best at what you enjoy.
Adult Reader Reaction: I struggled with this for a while, because even though I knew Lamar had to be the "hero," he wasn't a very pleasant or sympathetic character. About halfway through, though, he grew on me and the story became much richer. It is an enjoyable read, but not a book I'd pick for every reader. I don't mind street talk, but it was overdone.
Pros: Lots of dialogue and just a small group of characters make this a tight-knit story that will appeal to reluctant readers. There are a series of subplots that will have readers turning the page just to find out what happens next.
Cons: The kids talk to each other the way kids today do. There is no foul language, but there is an edginess to some of the exchanges that adults may not like.
Borrow or Buy: Borrow. This is one that could become a comfort read for teens on days that aren't going so well, but it's not a guarantee.
Educational Themes: There are several themes that would open discussion with teams: bullies (Lamar's brother and Billy Jenks); grief (loss of mother); family relationships; consequences and forgiveness; sportsmanship (cheating); and friendship (Sergio, Makeda, Lamar).
Notes: The publisher donated a copy of this book knowing that we would consider it for review and provide an independent, unbiased profile. This book will be given to a nonprofit to help readers in need.