In Carole P. Roman’s middle-grade book, a 14-year-old boy is desperate to be accepted to a mysterious, highly selective new high school—but is held back by self-doubt and his guardian, who is reluctant to let him attend.
High school is just months away, and Grady is highly insecure about his prospect of getting into Templeton, let alone having a successful life. Aarush, Grady’s brilliant friend, has applied. Despite encouraging Grady to do the same, Aarush sees Grady crumple up the school application and throw it toward the trash. Grady doesn’t notice Aarush catching it and stuffing it in his book bag.
While both boys struggle with disorders—Aarush is autistic and Grady suffers from anxiety and asthma—they come from opposite backgrounds: Aarush’s parents are well-to-do and supportive of their son. Grady was orphaned as a baby; he lives modestly with his Uncle Leo, and Grady joins the school work program to keep “the shampoo and toothpaste flowing.” Whenever the subject of Templeton comes up, Uncle Leo clams up.
Grady must also cope with Elwood Blesdoe, a popular jock and bully who often targets Aarush and hates Grady. When Elwood and Aarush are accepted to Templeton, Grady is both jealous and happy for his friend, but heartbroken he’ll be left behind.
The book is loosely structured into two parts; the first delivers short, engaging scenes that set up the story and imaginatively define the characters. The second grows increasingly action-packed, morphing into science fiction.
Except for two hard-to-believe scenes, Roman’s writing is excellent: portraying wonderful, complex characters. Narrated by Grady, the story reveals his kindness and humor. (“Aarush lived in a smart home as opposed to my stupid home,” he tells readers). It also illustrates the lovely symbiotic friendship between Grady and Aarush, who protect each other from trouble and ridicule.
With the book’s many touching, funny, and edge-of-your-seat moments, readers will be cheering to hear more from Grady.