This is a well written book, but ultimately I just don't think it's a good fit for my student population.
A great book for chess lovers. Who knew chess could change your life! Twelve year old Lawrence gets kicked out of school for fighting. When it seems that everything is going wrong, he discovers chess. As Lawrence learns to play chess, he learns to forgive himself and finds joy in his everyday life.
In this engaging and heartfelt book, Lawrence is kicked out of school for fighting and ends up spending his time at a local rec center. At the center, he learns how to play chess and goes onto join a local competition. Along the way, he makes new friends (including dealing with a new crush and a thorny rival), finds mentors, and learns some important truths about himself, family, and loyalty. A highly recommended read!
A story of chess, real life, and how to deal with whatever life hands you. It's perfect for older middle grade readers.
The strong first-person voice draws you into Lawrence’s life, starting right after he’s been beaten up by a group of bullies, blamed for the fighting, and kicked out of the mostly-white school. His mom doesn’t care and his granny doesn’t believe him. In fact, his Granny tells him he can’t stick around the house. An older neighbor takes Lawrence to his work at the local rec center where Lawrence helps him, does online school, and learns how to play chess. Playing chess requires focus and control, not just in the game but with his emotions, too–even when a kid at the rec center steals his stuff. Through the wisdom of his neighbor and learning to focus on chess, Lawrence finds purpose and inner fortitude that leads to his success in life and in chess. The writing is engaging, I couldn’t put this book down.
African-American Lawrence is used to being at the mercy of others, and yet somehow everything always winds up being his fault. He didn’t ask his Pop to leave, or to move from Charlotte to his grandma’s small southern town, and he certainly didn’t ask to be stuck in mostly-white, Andrew Jackson middle school, where he is lucky to get in a couple of punches during all too regular beat-downs. So, when he is expelled for fighting, and staying home in his strict granny’s way is NOT an option, suddenly Lawrence has to figure out what to do with himself. Luckily he seeks out an elderly neighbor who gives him a job helping out at the Rec Center. A friendship, a crush and figuring out how to move past getting off on the wrong foot with the Rec director’s son, all push Lawrence towards an interest in chess and gaining a spot on the Rec. Centers’ team. As in her Take Back the Block (2021), Giles writes a winning and believable adolescent boy. Lawrence navigates every kids worst-case scenario – friendless, misunderstood, expelled and disappointing those you care about. Watching him come back from that low: forgiving and seeking forgiveness, standing ground and developing skill in considering his next move, is pure pleasure. Some two-dimensional, villainous, white, chess competitors make a brief appearance and detract from the otherwise satisfying ending. While there are plenty of chess play specifics, the heart of the story is about the kind of moves every kid has the chance to make, and the message of how to take charge of shaping your own story, applies to us all.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for and Advance Readers Copy.
My sense is that this book could have been a lot stronger. The characters fall just short of compelling, which is unfortunate given the need for black male protagonists in contemporary middle grade fiction. Twyla, in particular, could have been a more richly developed side character. I wish I had more positive remarks to offer, but the book falls flat.
This terrific story is about Lawerence, who has moved to a small town in NC after growing up in the big city of Charlotte. Lawerence misses his friends, and his life in Charlotte, but most especially, he misses his dad, who is in jail. He does have his mom (who works a lot at a job she hates) and his little sister, Nikko, and his granny (who seems kind of mad that they're there) but when he gets into one fight too many at his new school, he's expelled. His granny says he can't just sit around the house all day so he ends up going to the rec center with one of the neighbors to help out. Lawerence gets introduced to chess at the rec center and pretty soon he's also making friends. There's one boy, Deuce, who is often unkind, but Lawerence finds that he's pretty good at chess and that chess can offer some amazing life lessons. I thought this book was terrific. I really liked Lawerence and how he tried to figure things out. I think the kids are going to like this one too.
Following another school fight, Lawrence, 112, is suspended but finds refuge at a neighborhood recreation center where learning to play competitive chess gives him new hope.
Lawerence is not fitting in to the school his mom and grandmother want him to attend after moving from Charlotte. After being expelled for fighting, he starts attending the local recreation center with his neighbor. It’s there that he discovers kids with common interests and a new interest - chess - and finds a way to belong. This is a great middle grade read about resiliency, friendship, and taking chances.
I loved the opening chapters of this book. There were realistic and well-conveyed, and I was looking forward to how the main character was going to overcome his many challenges. I was not as enamored with the chess sections of the books, but understand that this is needed to add some narrative excitement. Will certainly be adding to the class library, and think this will be a popular book.
This story flew by, but was so packed with important character development, it felt like I had been in this world forever. I loved watching Lawrence navigate a tough situation and his growth. It also made me want to play chess.
Giles hits it out of the park again. Important and engaging book for young readers. Characters worth rooting for, and you end up kind of wanting to play chess. Would benefit any library or school collection.
Chrystal Giles knocks it out the park with her sophomore novel featuring a kid dealing with poverty, an incarcerated parent, and a blooming love of chess. This was heartwarming, realistic, and inspiring.
This is a story about Lawrence who moves from one town to another town with his grandmother, mother, and siblings. He doesn’t like living in this country town. He goes to a new school and gets into too many fights. He ends up getting expelled and has to do his classes online. He has to find something to do and he ends up at a rec center.
The characters in this story are realistic, likable, and relatable. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The storyline was on point and realistic. The themes in the story are forgiving, family dynamics, taking responsibility, and self-awareness.
I recommend this book to middle-grade students. I give this book 5 stars.
ARC provided by Follett First Look
Lawrence lives with his mother, who works at Bob's Diner and his younger sister Nikko in their grandmother's house. The family left Charlotte to stay with Granny after some problems with Lawrence's father. He feels like he's had a target on his back ever since he started at the mostly white Andrew Jackson Middle School, and he's just been expelled for being involved in a fight that he didn't start. Instead, he'll be doing online schooling. Granny doesn't want him hanging around the house all day, so he approaches neighbor Mr. Dennis, and ends up working at the Carver Recreation Center during the day, setting up chairs, cleaning, and doing other chores after he finishes his schoolwork for the day. He's glad to be doing something; after all, Granny says that "a man who don't work don't eat"! There are some problems with the son of Junior, who runs the center. Deuce is angry, and tries to pick fighting with Lawrence. Lawrence knows that he can't be involved in another fight, and tries to understand why Deuce acts this way. A bright spot is Twyla, and Lawrence gets interested in chess after he finds out that she plays. He practices a lot and loses to Deuce, but picks it up quickly enough that he is approached about being the third person to attend a chess tournament in Charlotte. Deuce has struggled with his grades, so Junior has banned him from playing basketball, and suggests to Lawrence that the two of them can work on their chess moves together. At first, Deuce is reluctant and prickly, but Lawrence works hard to try to find a common ground, which ends up being music. They have other things in common, things that are hard to deal with and which neither boy wants to discuss. The tournament is an exciting opportunity, but when Deuce runs into problems with other competitors, will Lawrence be able to help?
Strengths: There are not a lot of books where students have incarcerated parents, but it is more common than one might think. I liked that while his father's being "gone" affected Lawrence's life deeply, the book was not about his father being in jail, rather like Baptiste's The Swag if in the Socks, a huge favorite at my school. Lawrence does become more thoughtful in his actions, and learns not to react as much when people say things to him, which is a skill we could all use! His family is supportive, and I loved Granny's lessons about working and cooking. (Even though having meat sauce with spaghetti and hot dogs in the beans was pretty fancy, it's a good lesson in saving money. I'll have to pass on the canned salmon, though. The bones always freaked me out!) His crush on Twyla played out in a realistic way, and I liked that he was able to remain friends with her even after their conversation. There is a lot of chess detail that I didn't understand, since I have never played the game, but this will be a bit hit with readers who do play. Definitely purchasing this one!
Weaknesses: It's sad that the principal at Lawrence's school hasn't taken the time to understand what is going on in his student's life and to protect him from people who are bullying him. That said, students at my school would probably say that I put too much emphasis on "law and order", but I just want people to be safe. (I do try to be positive and constructive when telling students that they shouldn't pretend to hit each other, because it might escalate. This is a topic that weighs heavily on me.)
What I really think: Like this author's Take Back the Block, this is a good balance of personal problems, societal issues of racism, and family relationships. The inclusion of chess will appeal to readers who liked Ponti's Forbidden City (2022), Sorosiak's Always, Clementine (2002), Wishingrad's The Verdigris Pawn (2021), Adewume's My Name is Tani (2020), Gerber's Focused (2019), Klass' Grand Master (2014) Blackwood's Curiosity (2014), Myers' Checkmate (2011), Wallace's Perpetual Check (2009) and Neri's Chess Rumble (2007).
Author Chrystal Giles has penned a deeply personal novel about what it means to grow up in a family––and a society––that won't give you any breaks. It's bad enough that Lawrence's father is "away", that they have to move in with his strict, grouchy grandmother, and that his mother has to take a job working the night shift, which means he'll hardly see her. But when he's unfairly expelled from school, he also has to find something to do with his days. He ends up hanging out at the rec center with a neighbor, Mr. Dennis, and takes up chess in an effort to impress a girl. Over time, he builds his confidence and learns to make the right moves––on the board and in his own life. Middle grade readers will root for Lawrence while identifying with the perplexities of navigating a world that often feels unfair. A must-read!
NOT AN EASY WIN, Giles’ second novel, is an incredibly moving, truthful, and beautiful book. Chrystal! The world is so visceral and drawn with such love and honesty. I loved that Lawrence’s wins were true to life- the seemingly “small” wins that are so much bigger and richer than winning the top prize at a tournament ever could be. This is a story that for some readers provides an opportunity to be seen, to bring light into the corners of their lives they might fight to keep hidden. For other readers it’s a moving reminder to always remember that we can never know what someone else is going through-
With this novel Giles cements her place as a talented and wise storyteller for our times
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an E-arc
Chrystal Giles's second novel NOT AN EASY WIN handles difficult issues with sensitivity, truth, humor, and grace. Lawrence is such a nuanced, layered, and tough-but-loveable main character, and the book's entire cast comes alive on the page. Lawrence's clear determination to learn chess and his well-drawn relationships with his family and friends bring a depth that increases with each chapter, and by the end of the book, it's hard to let these characters go. Giles has definitely written another winner!
Lawrence was the kind of kid who never should have been in trouble. But he was. Was it because he was black? Was it because he had a gaping wound because his dad was in jail? Was it because Lawrence let others get to him? It didn’t matter the reason. Lawrence was now expelled from school for the rest of seventh grade and destined to spend his near future with his grumpy grandmother. But that grumpy grandmother doesn’t stand for people who don’t work and Lawrence finds himself “working” without pay for a nearby rec center. It’s not an easy win indeed, but Giles weaves a wonderful coming of age and healing tale that will keep readers enthralled.