Nowhere Special

Nowhere Special
Age Range
Release Date
October 24, 2023
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Author Matt Wallace delivers a deeply moving story exploring that first formative friendship, navigating challenging family circumstances, and finding hope and strength in a forgotten desert town. Perfect for fans of Ernesto Cisneros and Julie Murphy.
The isolation and bullying Stan suffers at school are nothing compared to the war at home. After he tries and fails to defend his mom by standing up to his abusive father, Stan decides there is only one solution to finding a new self-confidence: he must learn how to fight.

Tragic events have split the two sides of Elpidia’s family into fighting factions. Every day she finds herself outnumbered by her cousins on the schoolyard. After the latest beatdown, her grandmother decides Elpidia must learn how to defend herself.

Stan and Elpidia seem like total opposites, but when they both wind up with the same reclusive trainer, they find an unexpected friendship as they work together to overcome their bullies. But when Stan gains the attention of a powerful gang leader, it threatens to pull him away from his new best friend. Will their dreams for the future be enough to get them out of this small town?

Editor review

1 review
When family is something you need to escape
(Updated: November 04, 2023)
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Elpidia and Stan both attend school in a small, impoverished desert community in Southern California. They both struggle with their family lives as well as getting along with people at school. Stan's father is out of work, drinks a lot, and frequently beats his mother. Stan is a big and heavy kid, and he feels that people on his bus make fun of him and don't want him to sit next to them. Elpidia is living with her abuela after her parents' drug addiction leads to their house burning down and their incarceration. This has caused a rift between the two sides of her family, with her father's relatives from a nearby reservation blaming Elpidia's mother for everything that occurs. Some of Elpidia's cousins, who go to her school, have accosted her and beaten her up several times. After Stan's father's last episode, his mother takes him to Charlie, a Filippino man who occasionally teaches people how to fight. Elpidia's grandmother takes her, as well, so she can defend herself from her cousins. The two bound over a love of writing, as well as their tough circumstances. Having the support of someone else is very helpful, and Abuela takes Stan under her wing, sending food to school from her restaurant for Stan, since his mother struggles to provide for him. Elpidia's grandfather on her father's side tries to mend the relationship between the families, and Elpidia has come to a detente with herr cousin after Stan stood up for her. As their fighting lessons continue, they come to the attention of the local gang leader, Mezco, who wants to recruit Stan for his gang, so that he can be a lone white face in the group, and because of his size and fighting skill. Stan doesn't think this is a good idea, and tells Charlie about it. Charlie takes Stan to Mezco and tells Mezco very politely to leave Stan alone. Later, things blow up both at Stan's home and with Charlie. Stan may have the skills to protect himself, but is he a danger to others?

Good Points
I appreciate that Wallace has a note at the beginning of the book with a content warning about the abuse, as well as the drug related content. He also notes that he has tried to make this middle grade appropriate, and I think he has done a good job. There's no bad language, the violence isn't glorified, and the outcomes improve life for both main characters. There is hope and redemption. Abuela, Grandpa Jamie, and Charlie are all adults in somewhat difficult circumstances who are trying their best to help Stan and Elpidia.

This is still pretty bleak, although not as bleak as the somewhat similar but more YA Desert Angel by Price. Several other reviewers have mentioned that they would probably not put this in an elementary library. There is a lot of questionable parenting. However, in Februrary, my 7th graders always start asking for problem novels where children are abused, so this would be perfect.

This would be a good choice for readers who want books like Braden's The Benefits of Being an Octopus but who want a more Southwest setting with more of a sports focus, or for readers who like Rex Ogle's memoirs.
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