This is an awesome, short middle grade book that is destined to be a staple in classrooms for years to come!
It features three boys: Wes, who's Black, Stephen, who's mixed, and Dan, who's white. Stephen is the glue that holds these boys together, but he doesn't know it yet and he's struggling with trying to find his own "lane" in 6th grade.
He attends a basketball game and buys a "What Lane?!" bracelet after a player, Marshall Carter, scores from just about anywhere. He wants to believe his father, who's told him the world is his to discover, but he's increasingly noticing how different people look at him and treat him in different situations, and how they sometimes push him into a "lane" he doesn't want to be in.
With Dan, Stephen recites Black superheroes and watches Stranger Things. But Dan's cousin -- Chad -- is bad news, all around. Stephen doesn't know this, however, because Dan and Wes stopped talking a while ago, and Stephen sorta fell out of hanging around with Wes. Wes warns Stephen about Chad's racist attitudes and beliefs and how he suspects the boy will take things to a dangerous level. But Stephen is still torn about what to do, especially when Dan's involved, and he allows himself to be bullied into "Chad's lane" a few times too many.
A series of events lead Stephen to question which "lane" he's in, and not always by choice. There's the building super who looks at Stephen accusingly after the super's bike is stolen. The grocery store worker who accuses him of stealing a cookie (which he eats before paying for it) while ignoring Dan doing the exact same thing. The police officer who won't wave back and scowls instead.
Then Stephen visits the local high school and learns about the Black Lives Matter movement, and Tamir Rice, and listens in a class discussion of race while Wes and his friends recite the names of children killed by police: Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, 15, Trayvon Martin, 17, Michael Brown, 18, and more.
His mother's afraid he's growing up too fast, and doesn't want his father to discuss these things with him, but Stephen's father is determined to do better for his son than his father did for him, bottling all the hurt inside.
It all comes to a head in a most innocent (but dangerous!) way: an invitation to a haunted house for Halloween.
I won't spoil the ending. The sheer complexity of this book, in a short 125 pages, is astounding and sure to be of high interest to middle grade readers. It's packed full of meaning and would make a fantastic jumping off point for conversations around identity and racial injustice in English and Social Studies in middle school.
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