Not an Easy Win
Middle-schooler finds chess, community in powerful story.
Based on 1 review
No reviews yet.Add your rating
Common Sense is a nonprofit organization. Your purchase helps us remain independent and ad-free.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Not an Easy Win, by Chrystal D. Giles, is about what happens to Lawrence, a Black seventh grader, when he gets kicked out of his mostly White middle school for fighting. A community recreation center, a vibrant after-school program, and the game of chess play central roles in the story. The novel touches on serious topics -- including racism, poverty, and parental incarceration -- in a sensitive and thoughtful way. There are a few mild fighting scenes among middle-schoolers. Community and forgiveness are important themes. Characters demonstrate compassion, empathy, self-control, and teamwork.
Excellent realistic fiction for middle grades
Report this review
What's the Story?
In NOT AN EASY WIN, Lawrence is a Black seventh grader attending mostly White Andrew Jackson Middle School. He's bullied at school and eventually gets kicked out for fighting. Lawrence, along with his mom and sister, have been living with Granny since his Pop left a couple of years ago. Lawrence struggles with the absence and incarceration of his dad and also with the crowded conditions, meager meals, and judgmental comments at Granny's house. While completing seventh grade online, Lawrence finds a job helping out at a local recreation center. He's glad to be among other Black kids and starts learning chess with his new friends. He also learns a lot about himself through the game. But when things get heated at a chess tournament, will Lawrence lose his cool or make the right move?
Is It Any Good?
This is a powerful and heartfelt story about finding community and healing. In Not an Easy Win, Lawrence is an endearing and inspiring character who's had a "double dose of hard lately." Mentors, new friends, and the game of chess help Lawrence better understand both himself and others. This is a well-written, nicely paced novel. The chess games and competition provide a bit of suspense, and humor is woven into the middle-schoolers' banter. Readers will relate to ordinary middle school situations, like making new friends and having crushes. They'll also learn about compassion, empathy, self-control, and teamwork through the diverse and dynamic cast of characters.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about race and racism in Not an Easy Win. Lawrence is one of the few Black children at Andrew Jackson Middle School. How does that affect his experience there? When he goes to the Carver Recreation Center, Lawrence is among other Black children. How does that make him feel? Why?
The mostly White middle school is named after Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. The mostly Black middle school is named after Booker T. Washington, a Black American educator and author. What do you know about these figures from American history? Why do you think the author chose to name the schools after them?
Chess plays a big part in the story. Did you know anything about chess before reading this book? What did you learn? Have you ever played chess or would you like to? Why or why not?
The kids at the rec center show teamwork by helping each other get better at chess and cheering each other on. When and where have you experienced teamwork? How did it feel?
- Author: Chrystal D. Giles
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy, Self-control, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: February 28, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, App
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 10, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Ghost: Track, Book 1
Poignant, smart look at track star running from his past.
Boy and grandma's thrilling ride through U.S., family past.
Kids get safe space to tell their stories in moving tale.
For kids who love coming-of-age books and middle school stories
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate