Joseph Friedman isn’t the coolest kid in middle school. He has a hard time paying attention, and he’s afraid of almost everything. He spends a lot of time in the Resource Room at school, where he gets special attention from his favorite teacher Mrs. T.
But seventh grade starts out with an interesting twist. First, Mrs. T. asks him to join his school’s cross-country running team. Second, one of his new teammates is a new girl who can run circles around everyone in school—even the bullies. Joseph pushes himself out of his comfort zone to try running and to make friends with Heather along the way. He may not become a track superstar, but as the book’s cover says, “The most important race is with yourself.”
SIDETRACKED is a solid middle grade novel with great character development. Joseph is lovable and funny. I cheered him on from the sidelines as he set out to get his PR for each race. Heather is unapologetically tough and kind, looking out for Joseph as he awkwardly navigates the complexities of middle school. And the side characters, including the other misfits who were cajoled into joining the cross-country team and Joseph’s wise and witty grandfather, round out a stellar crew.
The best part for me was that there was no miraculous transformation. Joseph ends the book much as he started—an awkward middle schooler and a mediocre runner. But he works hard, gains a friend, and proves there are a lot of ways an underdog can win.
SIDETRACKED published in August 2017 from Amulet Books.