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Release Date
January 24, 2023
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The author of What Lane? and Tight delivers a fast-paced read that packs a punch about a boy figuring out how to best use his hands—to build or to knock down.

Trev would do anything to protect his mom and sisters, especially from his stepdad. But his stepdad’s return stresses Trev—because when he left, he threatened Trev’s mom. Rather than live scared, Trev takes matters into his own hands, literally. He starts learning to box to handle his stepdad. But everyone isn’t a fan of his plan, because Trev’s a talented artist, and his hands could actually help him build a better future. And they’re letting him know. But their advice for some distant future feels useless in his reality right now. Ultimately, Trev knows his future is in his hands, and his hands are his own, and he has to choose how to use them.

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1 review
Put your dukes up... or not.
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Trev's father died when he was younger, and his mother remarried a man who had a daughter, Nikki, who was just a little older than his sister Jess. He's always looked up to his stepfather, especially the way he could hit, but when this ends up being problematic, Trev isn't quite sure how he feels about using his hands to fight. He does like to use his hands to draw, but has fallen out of the habit. While his family and community are supportive, he feels responsible for his sisters, and part of him feels like he should learn to box so he can defend them. The community around him is very emphatic about showing him this is not the case. There are some "uncles" in his neighborhood who are not related but are very much like family. There's Uncle Larry, a librarian in the project's library, Uncle Puff, who does box, and Uncle Frankie, who runs a garage and does NOT want Trev to get into fighting. He also has a supportive teacher, Ms. Clark, who notices that he's tired in class but doesn't pry into his business, although she does offer support. Trev's best friend, P, also tries to be supportive, but is also lured into thinking that perhaps fighting is a good way to solve problems. Trev has a lot to worry about, but is helped by people like Uncle Larry, who treats him to a movie marathon in order to take his mind off his concerns. Luckily, Trev is able to reassess his life and realize that the best way to live up to his promise is to use his hands for positive things like drawing. I love the way that this dichotomy is masterfully depicted on the cover!
Good Points
Trev's neighborhood will be interesting to my suburban students who don't necessarily live in areas where they can walk to places like Uncle Frankie's garage or Uncle Larry's library or apartment. It was good to see that Trev had an extensive network of trusted adults, and it was heartwarming to see that he took Cole under his own wing and was very protective of him. His worry about his family and his stress over protecting them are situations that will resonate with many middle school students, but which is often not reflected in middle grade literature. It's also good to see that he gets along with his sisters, and that he has a good friend in P, even though he has kept some information secret from his friend. The juxtaposition of boxing and fighting with drawing is a great literary device, and the theme of "promise" is one I would like to see in more books. Even though it has some heavy topics, this is a positive book with a character who is trying to do the right thing, and is seeking support from his community.

I can appreciate why Maldonado made this a bit more contemplative than his other titles, but I also know that the "train surfing" in Tight was a big draw for my readers! I wish that we would have seen more of the mother in the story, since Trev is clearly very fond of her, and her experience with the stepfather drives so many of Trev's actions.

Maldonado's Tight and What Lane are popular titles in my library (as was Secret Saturdays (2012) until the third or fourth copy was lost. I need to replace it again!), so I will definitely be purchasing because I definitely have the readers for it. The cover is very appealing. I can also see this being a good book to use as a class read aloud, since it has some interesting themes of identity and community. Maldonado is himself a middle school language arts teacher, and his exposure to the target demographic of readers is very evident. Always glad to see a new book from him.
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