Depending on a close friend, being willing and able to put the needs of another person before one’s own, and understanding that friendships run deep: these are the themes of Ernesto Cisneros’s new book, topics that will deeply resonate with the middle-grade readers who are their target audience.
Two friends, both Latinx and one with a Jewish background, live next door to each other. Close since early childhood, they are now starting middle school, where they are eager to succeed socially, academically, and athletically. Both boys have parents who are divorced or separating, and both find it important to make their parents proud. Marco, a lovable nerd, is confident in his academic abilities but very small for his age. Athletics has never been a field of expertise for him. He has a caring mother, but his father has moved on to a new life post-divorce. Only Marco’s nascent and wavering athletic abilities stir any interest at all. Isaac, on the other hand, is intelligent but has never prioritized school and struggles with his organizational skills. He is a talented athlete and is comfortable socially. While Isaac’s parents are supportive, his father is an alcoholic and he worries about his safety.
Each friend is there to support the other even, or perhaps especially, during challenging times. The book is full of heartwarming and friendship-affirming moments, each emerging organically within the daily structures of school and family life.
Chapters alternate between the points of view of both boys, and the author’s language is accessible and welcoming. Warmth and humor abound. Readers will identify with these boys and learn much about navigating the rocky moments of life with the help of devoted friends.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.