MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Vertical by Janet Berend
ABOUT THE BOOK
Skateboarder Josh Lowman witnesses one of the best skateboarders in town (the local bully) commit a crime. For days he agonizes over whether to tell anyone. Meanwhile, his friendships with a fellow skater (who is debating whether to drop out of school), a beautiful girl in his class (who loves to read, and seems to like Josh), and a cool math tutor (a college student who skates) slowly steer him toward a new kind of courage.
Josh has a mesmerizing narrator's voice; he rattles off a vacuous Valley-speak while slowly coming into his own, intellectually and morally. There is a hint of Holden Caufield about him. Vivid descriptions of skateboarding throughout the book will keep any skateboarder glued to the page. And a plot that rolls ahead constantly will maintain the reader's attention, while intermittently sneaking in a few lessons from English and math class, which serve to advance the story. (References to math in skateboard ramp design; plus small epiphanies from Lord of the Flies,Antigone, and Of Mice and Men.) Josh starts out as a school-hating dude and slowly comes around to seeing that he can skate and be smart . . . and a decent person.
Vertical will be loved by kids and by parents and teachers.
I ended up liking this book a lot more than I thought I would considering it's about an activity I know little about. I mean I've seen plenty of skateboarders, but I know little about the different moves and equipment and such. But the author does a good job describing the different moves and there is even a glossary at the end of the book defining the skateboarding terms that she uses throughout the book. The book felt real to me in terms of skater terminology and culture, but once again I am no expert.
Josh is a likable character with a typical teenager's disdain for school. He would much rather be skateboarding with his best friend Brendon. Although there is a cute girl in his English class, Josh wishes his parents would get off his case about his grades. And then there is the whole seeing someone steal from a car and what if anything he should do about it. And when the thief starts bullying him and Brendon goes along with it, Josh just doesn't know what to do. He doesn't want to be a squealer, but when Lenny goes to far, Josh must decide if he has the courage to do the right thing or not.
I appreciated how the author provided Josh with parents who cared enough to discipline Josh when he let his grades slip to low. Too many MG/YA books have absentee or troubled parents, it was refreshing to read one that didn't. I also liked Josh's English teacher and math tutor who provided good mentors for a confused Josh. I also enjoyed how the author worked in some real math and literature in a believable way. And Josh's reactions are so believable I almost laughed at times and then I sighed and rolled my eyes instead at these boys who think they can spend the rest of their lives skateboarding.
Overall, a refreshingly current read with believable characters, real issues, and an interesting plot that is appropriate for both middle grade readers and young adult readers. Also a good read for reluctant readers who are really into skateboarding.