cover image The Boys in the Back Row

The Boys in the Back Row

Mike Jung. Levine Querido, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-64614-011-4

Hilltop Summit K–8 School sixth graders Matthew Park, who is Korean American, and Eric Costa, who is white, have been best friends since fourth grade orchestra, where they bonded after Matt introduced Eric to comics. When they hear that their band class is going to compete in a three-day amusement park music festival, the boys are thrilled—especially when they find out that Jonah Burns, their favorite graphic novelist, is going to sign the Sandpiper Iconic Edition at nearby DefenderCon. The boys don’t seriously consider ditching the last day of the festival, however, until they receive some news: Eric’s mother has been offered a job as a pastry chef in New York, and the Costas are moving across the country at the end of the school year. But when bully Sean McKenna discovers their plans for a last hurrah—and, worse, wants in—the boys must decide how best to proceed. The treatment of themes including toxic masculinity, anti-Asian racism, and homophobia at times lacks nuance, but the colloquial kid-speak rings true. The boys’ friendship is refreshingly open and affectionate, and the narrative, including a bittersweet ending, is a resonant portrayal of the transitory nature of adolescence. Ages 8–12. Agent: Marietta B. Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Oct.)