cover image Stuck


Jennifer Swender. Crown, $16.99 (144p) ISBN 978-1-101932-94-0

Austin is used to being the new kid in class; along with his mother, the presumed-white fourth grader has moved so many times that he has developed strategies to stay under the radar and to conceal his trouble reading (“If you turn the pages too fast, teachers notice”). On his first day at a new school, Austin meets blue-eyed, effervescent classmate Bertie, who encourages him to apply to Safety Squad. Taciturn Austin relishes the idea of helping younger kids “on the bus and off the bus with their huge backpacks and their shoebox projects,” and though he imagines doing the job with easy confidence, he can’t bring himself to ask his unpredictable and avoidant mom to sign the permission slip. Austin’s narration is conversational and observant, threaded with descriptive colors and metaphors that hint at his learning obstacles: “It wasn’t like I could tell her that the words started to look like bricks, and the letters started to look like ants, and then the ants turned into dead leaves that were shriveled up with the edges all curling.” Swender’s (Solving for M) brief, textured tale never spells out the extent of Austin’s reading difficulty, while his vigilant protection of his secret and near constant anxiety at it being discovered imbues this thoughtful character study with tension and drive. Ages 9–12. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Nov.)