Review Detail

Middle Grade Fiction 78
Stubbornly Optimistic
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
What worked:
The book deals with important social issues of inequality, prejudice, and injustice. Initially, Omar is unaware he’s a victim of these problems and is thankful for the opportunities offered with his scholarship to a prestigious, private school. He continues to have dreams of becoming an astronomer but they’re challenged when he learns that he needs to complete community service each week and he can’t participate in extracurricular activities. He knows he’s from a poor family but he doesn’t feel poor until he’s called a charity case by a rich, enabled classmate.
The author delves into Omar’s thoughts and feelings allowing readers to experience his frustrations and fragile morale. He has high hopes for the school and understands it will be more difficult than his previous education. He experiences joy and success on the soccer field and in math class so he’s especially upset when he learns he can’t be part of the school team. Readers will fully understand the unfairness of the school when Omar’s effort and commitment are questioned while he’s already putting in extra time studying and working in the kitchen. Hopes for remaining in the school dwindle as the plot moves along.
Omar has a supportive group of friends, some with scholarships and some without. They come from different family backgrounds with different levels of wealth but they still treat each other as comrades. The scholarship students are burdened with extra expectations so they realize they may need to share their individual talents in order to survive their classes. Omar is constantly told that he needs to allow time to relax but he feels like he needs to spend all of his time studying. He doesn’t want to cause his family stress and he doesn’t want to let the school know about his troubles. He eventually confides in his best friend from home and she provides him with valuable advice that begins to produce optimism.
What didn’t work as well:
I’m not sure if a boy struggling to succeed in school will fully engage young readers but the story is so much more than that. Yes, much of the plot involves Oliver’s struggles with English class and meeting the school’s requirements but the true story is about an underdog battling to defeat injustice.
The Final Verdict:
The story will resonate with lovers of underdog stories and the author saves a couple of surprises for the second half of the book. Injustice always creates emotional responses within readers so their engagement should be guaranteed. I recommend you give this book a shot.
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