Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: Sidetracked

Sidetracked Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[I received a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

This is a story of overcoming obstacles, friendship, and comraderie. Seventh-grader Joseph Friedman faces many challenges; he has ADD as well as sensory and anxiety issues, is small, skinny, and weak, and is often made fun of by the kids at school. He is amazed by Heather, the new girl who is tall, strong, and takes no crap from anyone. Joseph ends up joining the cross-country team, after his Resource Room teacher practically forces him to. But, Joseph is pleasantly surprised to find that not only is his teacher the coach, but that Heather is also on the team. And, other than Heather, most of the other kids are not particularly great athletes. They all begin to gel as a team, supporting and encouraging each other, and Joseph discovers he can do more than he ever thought possible.

I loved this book! I was not an athlete, but I find that I often enjoy sports-related books and movies. There is just something about the comraderie and pushing one's self physically and mentally, and everyone loves an underdog. While I was never an athlete myself, my kids did cross-country and track, and I worked many a cross-country meet as a parent and also helped coach the middle school track team, and this book gave a very realistic portrayal of what cross-country is like. It is generally an overlooked sport, and doesn't get the recognition and glory that football, basketball, and soccer do, but it is often a safe haven for those who may not be exceptional athletes, but are willing to train and try their best. Runners are generally very encouraging and supportive of each other, even if they are not on the same team, and the focus is on achieving a personal best for most runners.

The story moved along at a satisfying pace, and the characters were well-developed and realistic, not caricatures as they often seem in middle-grade books. I loved seeing the relationship Jospeh had with his grandfather, and the friendship that developed between him and Heather. Heather reminded me very much of my own daughter, who is also very athletic and tough, and I could totally see punching a bully in the face. I liked that the outcome was completely realistic. {Spoiler} Joseph did not become Mr. Popularity, or miraculously win a huge race, but he did form some new friendships, become stronger both physically and mentally, and learned not only to stand up for himself, but that he could do more than he thought. I think readers will be very satisfied with the ending.

I loved this book, and I think it could appeal to a fairly wide range of readers who might find it inspiring: those who feel like they don't quite fit in, those who enjoy sports stories, those who are runners themselves, those who can relate to or like to root for the underdog, and those who need a push to challenge themselves. I would recommend it for ages 10-14, and it should appeal to boys and girls equally. A great middle-school read!

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