Review Detail

Kids Fiction 440
Thoughtful look at boys' friendships
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Matt and Ethan have been best friends for several years, and are navigating the choppy waters of middle school. Matt, who is Korean American, is a flute player like his father, but plays drums in the marching band so that people don't make fun of him and so that he can hang out with Ethan. Classmates like Kenny and his sidekick Sean are quick to give the boys a hard time, throwing around the epithet "gay", although it is likely that Kenny is protesting too much. When the band has the opportunity to play in a festival at an amusement park in the spring, everyone is excited about competing and spending time at the park. Matt and Ethan realizes, however, that the competition is the same weekend as a comic con they would really like to go to so they could meet Jonah Burns, the author of their favorite comic, Sandpiper. (Which I'm pretty sure is not an actual work.) When Ethan finds out that his family will be moving across the country after school is out, the two plan to sneak away from the school trip and attend the comic con. Sean finds out about their plans and wants to go with them, and when they tell him they would rather go alone, his feelings are hurt, and he lashes out at the two. Things get even more heated on the trip when Kenny is around.
Good Points
Matt's parents are possibly my favorite #MGLit parents ever, but we don't see that much of them. They attend the Unitarian Universalist church, spout phrases like "Respect bodily autonomy", invite over other families who are also of Korean descent, and have snacks like sriracha kale chips! Of course, they mortify Matt! It's great to see a solid friendship among boys, and also good that they don't change their friendship because people at their school (and even some people in the comic store) assume that they are a couple. The interest in comics, and the attempts to connect with Sean, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, added an interesting layer to this.

There's a good amount of discussion about how much grief boys who play flute get from their classmates, and I'm hoping this surprises most readers. There were male flute players when I was in middle school forty years ago, and no one cared. Now, the drummers in my school's band are evenly split by gender, with the occasional nonbinary student. As for boys who read books with girls on the cover getting a hard time... we have a lot of discussion about this in my library (and have for years), so I hope this is not the case at my school. I'm sad that Jung's experience of the world has so much negativity, but perhaps books like this will help change that.

Personally, I was disappointed by the twist that this took, because I was so looking forward to a particular adventure that didn't happen, but I'll definitely be purchasing this. Jung's Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities (2012) circulates well, and The Boys in the Back Row addresses a lot of timely issues of friendship, racial and gender related microagressions, and toxic masculinity.
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