Falling Short

  • Review
By – July 25, 2022

Depend­ing on a close friend, being will­ing and able to put the needs of anoth­er per­son before one’s own, and under­stand­ing that friend­ships run deep: these are the themes of Ernesto Cis­neros’s new book, top­ics that will deeply res­onate with the mid­dle-grade read­ers who are their tar­get audience.

Two friends, both Lat­inx and one with a Jew­ish back­ground, live next door to each oth­er. Close since ear­ly child­hood, they are now start­ing mid­dle school, where they are eager to suc­ceed social­ly, aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, and ath­let­i­cal­ly. Both boys have par­ents who are divorced or sep­a­rat­ing, and both find it impor­tant to make their par­ents proud. Mar­co, a lov­able nerd, is con­fi­dent in his aca­d­e­m­ic abil­i­ties but very small for his age. Ath­let­ics has nev­er been a field of exper­tise for him. He has a car­ing moth­er, but his father has moved on to a new life post-divorce. Only Mar­co’s nascent and waver­ing ath­let­ic abil­i­ties stir any inter­est at all. Isaac, on the oth­er hand, is intel­li­gent but has nev­er pri­or­i­tized school and strug­gles with his orga­ni­za­tion­al skills. He is a tal­ent­ed ath­lete and is com­fort­able social­ly. While Isaac’s par­ents are sup­port­ive, his father is an alco­holic and he wor­ries about his safety.

Each friend is there to sup­port the oth­er even, or per­haps espe­cial­ly, dur­ing chal­leng­ing times. The book is full of heart­warm­ing and friend­ship-affirm­ing moments, each emerg­ing organ­i­cal­ly with­in the dai­ly struc­tures of school and fam­i­ly life.

Chap­ters alter­nate between the points of view of both boys, and the author’s lan­guage is acces­si­ble and wel­com­ing. Warmth and humor abound. Read­ers will iden­ti­fy with these boys and learn much about nav­i­gat­ing the rocky moments of life with the help of devot­ed friends.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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