Educators’ Guide for The Partition Project by Saadia Faruqi

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The Partition Project
Author: Saadia Faruqi
Published: February 27th, 2024 by Quill Tree Books

Summary: When her grandmother comes off the airplane in Houston from Pakistan, Mahnoor knows that having Dadi move in is going to disrupt everything about her life. She doesn’t have time to be Dadi’s unofficial babysitter—her journalism teacher has announced that their big assignment will be to film a documentary, which feels more like storytelling than what Maha would call “journalism”.

As Dadi starts to settle into life in Houston and Maha scrambles for a subject for her documentary, the two of them start talking. About Dadi’s childhood in northern India—and about the Partition that forced her to leave her home and relocate to the newly created Pakistan. As details of Dadi’s life are revealed, Dadi’s personal story feels a lot more like the breaking news that Maha loves so much. And before she knows it, she has the subject of her documentary.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for the author:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about The Partition Project on Saadia Faruqi’s website.

Flagged Passage: View an excerpt HERE.

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Drawing Deena by Hena Khan

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Drawing Deena
Author: Hena Khan
Publishing February 6th, 2024 by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes a tenderhearted middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American artist determined to manage her anxiety and forge her own creative path.

Deena’s never given a name to the familiar knot in her stomach that appears when her parents argue about money, when it’s time to go to school, or when she struggles to find the right words. She manages to make it through each day with the help of her friends and the art she loves to make.

While her parents’ money troubles cause more and more stress, Deena wonders if she can use her artistic talents to ease their burden. She creates a logo and social media account to promote her mom’s home-based business selling clothes from Pakistan to the local community. With her cousin and friends modeling the outfits and lending their social media know-how, business picks up.

But the success and attention make Deena’s cousin and best friend, Parisa, start to act funny. Suddenly Deena’s latest creative outlet becomes another thing that makes her feel nauseated and unsure of herself. After Deena reaches a breaking point, both she and her mother learn the importance of asking for help and that, with the right support, Deena can create something truly beautiful.

Praise: *Khan skillfully weaves in cultural references and Urdu phrases alongside thoughtful questions about the arts, mental health, social media, parent-child relationships, and the pressures adolescent girls face about their appearances. A nuanced and quietly powerful story. – Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW

About the Author: Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at HenaKhan.com or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

Review: Art + middle school + identity + family struggles + friends + growth of so many characters = a book that I couldn’t put down. 

As a mental health advocate and someone who believes we should all share our struggles public much more than we do, Drawing Deena is a book that went straight to my heart.

Deena has so much going on. She is truly just trying to hold it together, but it is all too much. However, if you look on the surface, she looks like any other pre-teen and she has learned to mask all of her emotions. But that is what makes the book so insightful. This is how most of our students who are suffering from mental illness deal on a day to day basis–the best they can and often they make it so outside people wouldn’t notice. But throughout the book, she learns to find her voice: her advocacy voice, her friendship voice, her stern voice, her artist voice… She learns that her voice matters.

There is a part of the press release I had to share that pulls it all together: “According to the CDC, anxiety affects approximately one in 11 children aged 3-17. A panel of experts recently recommended that all children 8 and older be screened for anxiety. Thus, Khan hopes to help address America’s mental health crisis among children through her work. Deena is a lovable and relatable character, a young artist who struggles with anxiety, who wants her parents to stop fighting and having money woes, and dreams of being a painter like her idol Vincent van Gogh. She learns to stand up against bullies of all ages and that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Tools for Navigation: In addition to the advocacy of mental health, I love the art aspects of the book! I think it is a perfect way to move a discussion of art history to contemporary and diverse artists and finding your own style of art. This was a very powerful aspect of the book!

I also love how Deena helps her mother with her business, and I think that what she does for the store could become an activity as well: create a logo, create a website, plan finances, etc.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the first sign that Deena is struggling with her mental health?
  • Why is meeting Salma such a pinnacle event in Deena’s life?
  • Why does the Van Gogh experience affect Deena the way it does?
  • Do you think Deena should have gotten mad at Parisa when she did?
  • How is Deena’s school helping her with her anxiety?
  • Why is Deena’s father so hesitant for her to get help? What does this show us about shift in the view of mental health between generations?
  • Why is Deena’s mom so hesitant about Deena’s changes for her business? In the end, do you think that Deena helped her out?
  • Why is everyone so interested in getting on social media so quickly? Do you believe this is good for teen’s mental health?

Flagged Passages/Spreads: I open the door and Parisa bounds inside. My cousin is always in a hurry, whether she’s running for the bus, walking to a store at the mall, or racing down the halls at school. I struggle to keep up with her wherever we go together. It doesn’t help that she’s at least two inches taller than me and has super long legs.

“Be careful, this is still hot,” Saima Khala says, handing me a pot with two worn oven mitts. “Put it on the stove.”

“What is it?” I ask.

“Chicken pulao. Your mother said she didn’t have time to cook, and I was already making this.”

“Yum.” My aunt’s pulao is the best, but I’d never admit that to Mama.

I take the pot, heavy with rice, and carry it to the kitchen, and Parisa sets a bag filled with containers on the counter. Some are full, and others are empty and will probably go back full. This is how it works between our families, there’s a constant exchange of food.

“Leave the daal out and put the rest in the fridge. Where’s your mother?” Khala asks as she opens a drawer and takes out a big spoon.

“I think she’s upstairs. Rubina Auntie just left,” I say.

Khala smiles and pats my cheek. She looks like a younger and more stylish version of my mom although she’s a couple of years older than her. That’s something else I’d never tell Mama.

“How are you?” she asks, her eyes piercing in a way that makes me feel like she cares, and that she remembers what it’s like to be my age.

“Good,” I say, smiling back. “But I haven’t started my homework or studying for my test. We went to the dentist after school.”

“What kind of test?”

“Science.”

“Go study. Parisa can help you. She remembers what she studied last year, right?”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Parisa says. “I remember every single thing I’ve ever learned in school.” She grins at me.

“Okay, smarty-pants, well don’t distract her then!” Khala smacks Parisa playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll take care of this and help your mom.”

“Come on,” I say to Parisa.

Parisa beats me up the stairs and heads to my room. It’s the smallest one in the house, but I have a bigger closet than Musa. My cousin plops down on my bed and sticks out her hand. Her nails are purple with a gold streak running through them.

“What do you think?”

“Did you do them yourself?” I ask, taking her hand and looking at it closely.

“Of course.”

“It totally looks professional.” I’m seriously impressed with Parisa’s nail art skills. She’s been doing her nails since I was ten and she was eleven, and she’s gotten better and better over time. It looks like she got them done at a salon, which she basically did.

Parisa’s mom started offering eyebrow threading to ladies in the community from home a few years ago. She gradually added waxing, facials, and other skin care services. Now, my Khala’s got a legit home-based salon and is always busy. Parisa knows a lot about it and helps her mom out with booking appointments and other stuff. My cousin is the reason I’ve been taking more of an interest in Mama’s boutique lately. Maybe I can help her business take off the same way.

“You should let me do yours,” Parisa says, glancing at my nails, jagged in places from where I chew on them. I try not to, but it’s a bad habit when I’m nervous.

“I’m good.” I clench my fists and hide my nails.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ve got a bunch of new colors,” Parisa says.

“It’ll get messed up when I do my art projects.” I shake my head. I don’t add that I’m more interested in painting a canvas than either my nails or my face.

“Fine.” Parisa fake pouts. “But you have to let me do your hair then. Honestly, Deena, you would look so pretty if you curled your hair and put some anti-frizz in it.”

I try not to react, even as her words grate on my nerves. My cousin’s always pointing out how much better I’d look if I only did something to change myself.

“My hair’s fine,” I mumble, noticing how Parisa’s hair is shiny and smooth with loose curls on the ends. I picture my own head, filled with tighter curls, topped with a layer of frizz. But it takes too long to fight my hair into submission. And the few times I ever had it blow-dried straight, I hated the way it made me look like a different person. I’m not interested in doing that again, so Parisa can make me her project. No, thanks.

“You’re in seventh grade now, Deena. You should pay a little more attention to the way you look. I didn’t care when I was younger either, but now I realize my mom’s right. It’s good to take pride in your appearance.”

Is it though? I want to say. How much pride?

But instead, I swallow my irritation and try to think of a way to change the subject.

“Want to help me choose which photo of you to use for my art assignment?” I ask.

“Sure, Deenie Beenie.” Parisa is instantly interested, and she uses the nickname she’s had for me since we were little. I pull up the photos of Parisa on my phone and swipe through them. There’s one of her seated on my bed, another in a big chair, her gazing directly into the camera, and my favorite, her reading a book.

“That one,” Parisa says, pointing. It’s the one of her looking directly into the camera. She’s got a teasing smile, like she’s hiding a secret.

“Not the one with the book?”

“I look like a dork in that one. Plus, I like the way my hair is falling over my eyes here.”

Parisa made this decision easy. I pull out my pencils and my drawing pad. I’ve already made a big grid with rulers on the page like my teacher Mr. Carey instructed. He said that for portraiture it helps to make sure that you get proportions right. I prefer to freehand, but he’s going to be checking our progress, so I have to do it this way.

I start to sketch out a basic outline of the photo while Parisa watches.

“Can you make my eyes a little bigger?” she asks. “And my nose a little smaller? Right there.”

She points at the photo.

“I’m getting graded on how much it looks like the photo,”

I laugh.

“Yeah, but can’t you, like, put a filter on it?” Parisa grins.

Every time Parisa takes a picture of us, she messes around with it for a while using a glam app. It makes your skin glow and does other things. By the time she’s done with it, we almost look like different people, and then she posts it on her socials.

I’m not allowed to have any accounts until I’m in high school but I wonder if her followers would recognize me if they ever met me in real life.

“Well, just make me look good,” Parisa says after I stare at her and don’t respond.

“You always look good,” I finally say. And I mean it. Parisa is a pretty girl, and she knows it. At least I think she does. Because she also acts like she needs other people to remind her.

I’m going to make sure her portrait is beautiful. But I’m not changing the way she looks.

Read This If You Love: Iveliz Explains it All by Andrea Beatriz Arango, Fifty-Four Things Wrong with Gwendolyn Rogers by Caela Carter, Worser by Jennifer Ziegler

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for providing a copy for review!**

Discussion Guide for How to Heal a Gryphon by Meg Cannistra

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How to Heal a Gryphon
Author: Meg Cannistra
Published: October 4th, 2022 by Inkyard Press

Summary: To save her family, she’ll have to make a dangerous bargain and tip the scales off balance.

With her thirteenth birthday just around the corner, Giada Bellantuono has to make a big decision: Will she join the family business and become a healer or follow her dreams? But even though she knows her calling is to heal vulnerable animals, using her powers to treat magical creatures is decidedly not allowed.

When a group of witches kidnaps her beloved older brother, Rocco, and her parents are away, Giada is the only person left who can rescue him. Swept into the magical underground city of Malavita, Giada will need the help of her new companions to save her brother—or risk losing him forever.

Review: In the first book of the Giada the Healer series by Meg Cannistra, we enter a world where magic is real and mythical creatures exist and we get to meet Giada, a thirteen year old girl from a family of healers. She has magic, just like the rest of her family, but unlike them, her magic works best with animals. She knows she is going to have to tell her family that she wants to work with animals, not humans, but she has been putting it off trying to figure out how to break it to them without them being too upset. But before she can get a chance, she finds herself in the most important fight of her life–one against the witches underground to save her brother. Through this journey, will Giada be able to show that her passion is just as important as tradition?

Readers will love Giada and her story. It is paced so well, with a balance of plot-driven and character-driven elements, a body-positive message throughout, and the magical system & world building is intertwined with aspects of Roman mythology and Italian folklore. I also particularly love the lesson found within the book about passions: Giada’s internal struggle of passion versus expectation is one that so many readers will connect with, and Giada will be a great guide for those in similar situations. 

I was lucky enough to be able to create a discussion guide for Cake Creative Kitchen and Inkyard Press for this book and educators will find that Cannistra’s novel includes imagery and descriptive language, complex characters, an opportunity to look at cause and effect, thought-provoking reflection opportunities, a quest-focused plot that follows the hero’s journey, and more elements that allow the reader to deeply delve into the text. 

This book will definitely leave any reader wanting more, but they’re in luck! The second book in the series, How to Save a Unicorn, is waiting for them! Happy reading everyone!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative Kitchen:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

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Discussion Guide for Futureland: Battle for the Park by H.D. Hunter

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Futureland: Battle for the Park
Author: H.D. Hunter
Published: November 8th, 2022 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary: When an extraordinary flying theme park arrives above Atlanta, one boy must stop a sinister force from stealing the park’s tech and taking over the world.

Welcome to the most spectacular theme park in the world.

Everyone wants a ticket to Futureland, where you can literally live out your wildest dreams. Want to step inside your favorite video game? Go pro in a sports arena? Perform at a real live concert? Grab your ticket and come right in.

Yet with all its attractions, Futureland has always just been home to Cam Walker, the son of the park’s famous creators. And when Futureland arrives at its latest stop, Atlanta, Cam is thrilled for what promises to be the biggest opening ever. . . .

But things aren’t quite right with the Atlanta opening. Park attractions are glitching. Kids go missing. And when his parents are blamed, Cam must find the missing kids and whoever’s trying to take down his family . . . before it’s too late.

Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the discussion guide I created for Futureland: Battle for the Park:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

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Up In Flames by Hailey Alcaraz

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Up In Flames
Author: Hailey Alcaraz
Published: October 3, 2023 by Viking

Summary: Gorgeous, wealthy, and entitled, Ruby has just one single worry in her life—scheming to get the boy next door to finally realize they’re meant to be together. But when the California wildfires cause her privileged world to go up in flames, Ruby must struggle to find the grit and compassion to help her family and those less fortunate to rise from the ashes.

At eighteen, Ruby Ortega is an unapologetic flirt who balances her natural aptitude for economics with her skill in partying hard. But she couldn’t care less about those messy college boys—it’s her intense, brooding neighbor Ashton who she wants, and even followed to school. Even the fact that he has a girlfriend doesn’t deter her . . . whatever Ruby wants, she eventually gets.

Her ruthless determination is tested when wildfires devastate her California hometown, destroying her parents’ business and causing an unspeakable tragedy that shatters her to her core. Suddenly, Ruby is the head of the family and responsible for its survival, with no income or experience to rely on. Rebuilding seems hopeless, but with the help of unexpected allies—including a beguiling, dark-eyed boy who seems to understand her better than anyone—Ruby has to try. When she discovers that the fires also displaced many undocumented people in her town, it becomes even more imperative to help. And if she has to make hard choices along the way, can anyone blame her?

In her powerful debut novel, Mexican American author Hailey Alcaraz chronicles a riveting portrait of transformation, resilience, and love with an unlikely heroine who, when faced with unforeseen disaster, surprises everyone, especially herself.

Review: This book reminds us all that we are imperfect, and we won’t always make the right choices. Ruby’s story is set in a backdrop of the California wildfires. The book includes richly realized themes, and I particularly appreciated the ways in which Author Hailey Alcaraz interrogated the intersections of race and class. I was invested in Ruby’s story and rooting for her from the beginning to end. She is certainly flawed (as we all are), and she felt very real to me. I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it. (The audiobook is excellent!)

Tools for Navigation: Teachers might have students map some of the many themes of this book, considering how they are integrated within the text and the lessons they teach readers.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you describe Ruby? What qualities does she have that are positive? What qualities might she work on? What lessons does she learn?
  • How does the setting shape the story? How might the text be different if the setting was different?
  • How are Ashton, Remy, and Charlie different? How does Ruby’s relationship with each help us understand her more?

Flagged Spreads/Passages: She understood that some things required more than sheer willpower. Some things—the important things, the hard things, the things that defined you as a person—required patience and trust and listening, too (p. 370, Advanced Reader Copy, and the quote may change).

Read This If You Love: Realistic Fiction, Romance, Social Justice Stories

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**Thank you to Aubrey at Penguin Young Readers for providing a copy for an honest review**

Frankie and Friends: Breaking News by Christine Platt, Illustrated by Alea Marley

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Frankie and Friends: Breaking News
Author: Christine Platt
Illustrator: Alea Marley
Published October 10th, 2023 by Walker Books

Summary: Frankie’s mama is leaving to cover a breaking news story. Frankie, Papa, and Frankie’s teenage sister, Raven, are all proud of Mama, even though they miss her when she’s away. But Frankie has a great idea: she can make her own news show! After all, Mama has told her that news is happening around her all the time. With a little assistance from her friends—including her doll Farrah, Robert the toy robot, and her tabby cat, Nina Simone—Frankie prepares for her first “broadcast.” And when she hears someone crying in the house, she knows that’s the developing story she must cover. With humor, empathy, and imagination, Frankie gets the scoop—and learns that even mature older sisters can miss Mama sometimes. With sweet illustrations throughout, this engaging new series embraces communication and compassion and is a refreshing portrayal of Black women in journalism. Young reporters will learn the terms of the trade, which are clearly presented in the text and reinforced in a glossary at the end of the book.

In a charming new chapter-book series by a social-change advocate, young Frankie emulates her journalist mama by reporting on household news with the help of her sister and an unlikely news crew.

About the Creators: 

Christine Platt is a literacy advocate and historian who believes in using the power of storytelling as a tool for social change. She holds a BA in Africana studies, an MA in African American studies, and a JD in general law. Although her only daughter is now in college, Christine Platt continues to draw on their adventures together as inspiration for her children’s literature. She has written more than thirty books for young readers and currently resides in Washington, DC.

Alea Marley is an award-winning illustrator of many books for children, including Phoebe Dupree Is Coming to Tea! by Linda Ashman. She loves creating whimsical scenes that are filled with patterns, texture, and bursts of color. Alea Marley lives in northern England.

Review: I love when I read a book, and I can immediately see it being loved by readers and how educators can utilize it in the classroom. Breaking News did exactly that–readers are going to love Frankie, her family, her group of stuffed animals, and her go-get-em attitude. They will also connect with Frankie’s emotions and curiosity.  Then, on top of that, educators can easily grab so much from the book to use in the classroom, especially the journalism aspects. And all of this is done in a early chapter book that is age appropriate, full of family dynamics, promotes imagination, and has beautiful full-page color illustrations!

Tools for Navigation: The author does a great job intertwining journalism terminology with the story and also has back matter which delves deeper into the different terms. I would love to see these aspects used to help a class get started on a class newspaper or, like Frankie and her mom, an oral report that is news-based.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does Frankie’s curiosity help her start the important conversation with her sister?
  • What emotions does Frankie, and her family, go through when her mom needs to leave to cover a news story?
  • How does Frankie’s mom inspire Frankie?
  • What traits does Frankie have that will make her a good journalist?
  • What journalistic terms did you learn from the book?
  • What do you think was the author’s purpose in this book?

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Polly Diamond series by Alice Kupiers, Illustrated by Diana Toledano; Pigeon Private Detectives series by Christee Curran-Bauer; King and Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler, Illustrated by Nancy Meyers

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**Thank you to Nicole Banholzer PR for providing a copy for review!**

If You Meet the Devil, Don’t Shake Hands by Sylvia Whitman

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If You Meet the Devil, Don’t Shake Hands
Author: Sylvia Whitman
Published September 19th, 2023 by Fitzroy Books

Summary: Twelve-year-old Gavin Baker, son of a warrior, is a born worrier. With his father serving overseas, Gavin assumes that he’ s already imagined the worst that can happen— until he shakes hands with his best friend Javi’ s long-lost grandfather and finds himself trapped in the old magician’ s ailing body. Help! As the trickster takes over Gavin’ s life, fooling the girl of his dreams and even his own family, Gavin wonders if the imposter is a better version of Gavin than Gavin himself. He has to convince Javi that the real Gavin now has hairy knuckles and a love of Pablo Neruda’ s poetry. Then the boys can try some tricks of their own. But will the two friends be able to reverse the old devil’ s magic? Or will both of their families get their hearts broken?

About the Author: Sylvia Whitman, a writer and educator, has published articles, a picture book, and nonfiction & fiction children’s books. A folklore and mythology major in college, she has always liked proverbs, particularly this one: “A book is a garden carried in the pocket.” She lives with her husband and two kids in Arlington, Virginia. Visit her at SylviaWhitmanBooks.com.

Review: This twist on Freaky Friday looks at the heart of family trauma and perspective. It was fascinating to see how the switch into an unwelcome visitor led to a conclusion that I would not have guessed. Through the eyes of Javi’s returned abuelo, but with Gavin’s narrative, we learn the truth of the past and the present. Though the story focuses on Gavin and “El Diablo,” there are side stories that add heart to the story and flesh out the supporting character. Whitman does a wonderful job showing the reader both reasons for sympathy and anger while validating all of the emotions of all of the characters.

Tools for Navigation: This book will be perfect for middle school classroom and school libraries. Middle school readers are going to be enthralled by the concept of the book and want to figure out how it all shakes out.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think El Diablo and Gavin switched places?
  • How did the switch affect both of them?
  • What do you think happens next, after the end of the book?
  • How do you think the story would have been different if Gavin and El Diablo hadn’t switched places?
  • Through the flashes of El Diablo’s memory coming through, what do you believe happened in the past? Do you think Javi’s abuelo is as devil-like as they’ve all assumed?
  • Do you agree with the tactics that Gavin uses to reach the conclusion of the book?
  • What do you believe the theme of the book is?

Flagged Passages: “El Diablo’s hand is still waiting for mine.

Should I tell him my last name? He’s Javi’s granddad, after all. Or should I make one up?

Say nothing. Smile. That’s Mom’s advice.

It’s rude if I don’t shake, though.

When we touch, Javi’s grandfather gives me a shock so strong I can hear the snap. Before I can pull back, he clamps his left hand over the shake, trapping me. His eyes bore right into mine.

“What are you good at”—he gulps a quick breath—“Gavin?”

I don’t know. My whole arm is tingling—no, stinging—like after it goes to sleep and then starts to wake up. I want to shake it out. I pull back slightly, but this guy is not relaxing his grip. He’s acting like a diablo, not an abuelo.

I’m about to yelp for help when El Diablo says, “Good with the girls?”

At that, both Javi and I snort.

“Science,” Javi says. “School.”

So is Javi. He’s good at everything.

“A smart one,” El Diablo says to me. “What else?”

I wait for Javi to speak up, but he doesn’t. Outside of class I’m not much of anything.

My dad is always telling me that I should take some risks—not stupid ones, like stealing a car or smoking dope, but expanding ones, like reading a book you’ve never heard of or tasting food you can’t pronounce. Right after Dad went downrange, I tried some borscht that a lady from the family support center gave us, but when Mom explained beets made it purple, I spit it back into the bowl and just ate rolls for supper.

Now the pins and needles are spreading across my collarbone and down my left arm. My blood is bubbling like soda fresh from the can. Isn’t this a symptom of a heart attack?

I yank my hand, but El Diablo holds tight. “Sports?” he asks.

“Your grandson’s the soccer star,” I say. Now let go of me.

Javi shakes his head.

“You are,” I insist. “You’ll make the team this year. They need another goalie.”

“Not if I don’t practice,” Javi says.

“Get your friend here to shoot on you,” El Diablo says.

“He won’t,” Javi says. That’s not true. I’m just careful. I read somewhere that soccer’s the fifth most dangerous sport, with 22.12 injuries per 100,000 participants.

“Before I came to this country, I played striker for El Brujos,” El Diablo says.

Given that he’s sitting down and practically panting, I find it hard to believe that he once covered a field. Javi’s always telling me that soccer requires incredible conditioning. He even found some story about soccer players living longer to convince me to try out with him for the Crossroads team. But he forgot to factor in sudden cardiac death, concussions, and dementia.

I expect El Diablo to start reminiscing, or making up stories, about his athletic career, which I can tolerate as long as he relaxes his grip on my hand. I need it for scratching since it feels as if approximately 250 ants have crawled under my shirt and are marching down into my pants. At six legs per ant, I have roughly 1500 roaming itchy spots.

“Would you mind…letting go?” I ask in my most polite desperate voice.

“You’re a smart boy, Gavin,” he says. “Smart is good. Wise is better.”

I try to signal SOS with my eyebrows, but Javi thinks I’m just puzzled by the comment.

“What’s the difference?” Javi asks.

“Smart knows facts,” El Diablo says. “Wise understands people.”

“Sir—my hand. I think maybe the circulation’s cut off,” I say. But it’s not just my hand; every nerve cell in my body is cut off and in flames.

Still gripping, El Diablo leans toward my ear and whispers, “You have something I want.” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, The Switch by Anthony Horowitz, Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**