Lynn: Lawrence and his family have had a “double dose of hard” lately. In Chrystal D. Giles new book, Not an Easy Win (Random, 2023), Lawrence’s dad is in prison, he, his mom and sister have had to move three times since and now are staying with their unwelcoming grandmother. In his new school, where Lawrence is a rare boy of color, the bullies line up to beat him up and as the story opens he is expelled for fighting. His mother negotiates his finishing 7th grade in an online program and he has to spend the day working at the rec center, an after-school program for kids. There, Lawrence discovers a chess program, a group of friends, and an enemy who might have been a friend..
Giles puts readers squarely in the shoes of 12-year-old Lawrence, doing a masterful job of walking us through the painfully authentic emotions of this endearing tween struggling to understand his upside down world and find his way. Lawrence feels that somehow everything that has happened to his family is his fault while at the same time, he is sure he is being blamed unfairly for everything – a feeling that will connect with 6th graders everywhere. Fascinated by the game of chess, Lawrence develops not only the skills for the game but for managing his temper and dealing with the issues in his life. It is done with great finesse and Lawrence’s progress and set-backs feel true.
The entire cast of characters is vivid and fully rounded from his stressed cranky grandmother, to the kids at the rec center and even to his absent father. Lawrence and his hard-fought wins are as heart-warming as they are believable. I was rooting for him from page one and so will very reader! Check!