Not an Easy Win by Chrystal D. Giles

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In the first few pages, Lawrence gets suspended for the rest of the year from his mostly-white middle school for fighting one of the class bullies. It doesn’t help that he and his mom and sister have moved from Charlotte into his grandmother’s house in a small rural town after his dad has been sent to jail. While waiting for the school to set up his online portal, he wanders over to his neighbor’s house, where Mr. Dennis invites him to go to the neighborhood rec center where he works.  There, Lawrence helps Mr. Dennis and begins to get to know some of the kids.  These kids come from the mostly Black school, and Lawrence feels more at home.  He becomes fascinated with the game of chess, in part because a girl named Twyla is one of the chess champions.  For the most part, things are going better, but one of the rec center boys, Deuce, gives Lawrence a hard time and tries to start fights.  Eventually, chess helps them to bridge their differences, and Lawrence discovers that he and Deuce have a lot in common.  When Deuce, Lawrence, and Twyla get a chance to compete in a chess tournament in Charlotte, they get a taste of a bigger world, but also a chance to build some confidence in their abilities and an appreciation for their friendship.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This well-written story deftly handles topics like racism, multigenerational living, and incarcerated parents while focusing on Lawrence’s universal middle school issues with friends and romance.  With four starred reviews, this deserves to be a contender for a Newbery or Coretta Scott King award.

Cons:  An Amazon reviewer mentioned that chess tournaments are typically more diverse (and nerdier) than the one portrayed here which seemed to be mostly populated by mean preppy white kids.

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