From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—Trina and her seventh-grade classmates organize a trick against Carlos, their special-needs classmate with big hair, a squeaky voice, and scratching issues. Trina uncovers his fear of aliens after being partnered with him for a school project, and the pranksters plan an extraterrestrial encounter for him during their class's wilderness excursion. As Trina gets to know Carlos, she begins second-guessing herself, especially since Sara, her best friend, has grown distant. Emerson fully explores some characters only to leave others languishing. Trina's anger and embarrassment after her in-class humiliation because of an accident Carlos causes becomes almost visceral, and readers will be shocked at how well they identify with her in that moment. They will commiserate with the students over the perceived favoritism that Carlos receives. The suspenseful forest scene in which the plan goes awry and the children become lost stirs the primeval fears of cold and dark, and generates empathy for both the pranksters and the victim. However, the author allows too much action to occur offstage, and there's not enough information about Carlos's unspecified disorder to understand him or the teachers' treatment of him. Still, this tale can illustrate the consequences of one's actions and provides comfort to those who are waiting for the pranks to end.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
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*Starred Review* The jungle of middle-school peer pressure is the setting of this gripping story about seventh-graders in Boston who gang up on their troubled classmate, Carlos. The story is told from the viewpoint of Trina, a nice, smart African American girl who does not want to hurt Carlos, but she cannot stand up to her friends who bully him. Then she is appointed to be his partner in a science project, and she learns his secrets, especially his fear of “aliens.” The class uses the information to plan a trick even asTrina discovers that she cares for Carlos. The author is a middle-grade teacher, and he perfectly captures the classroom power struggles of friends and enemies, as well as the terror of being an outsider if you don’t go along with the group. The dialogue is right on, as is the hurt of betrayal and the guilt that cannot be resolved. In the exciting climax, the class plays their prank during a lightning storm in the mountains, and the setting is part of the drama as a city kid discovers the sense of space on the mountaintop and the feeling of being a giant and a speck at the same time. Grades 4-7. --Hazel Rochman