By Stephanie Morgan,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Sweet, vulnerable friendship of two Latino sixth-grade boys.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Gives a glimpse into the home lives and family culture of two middle school Latino boys.
Themes of inclusion, perseverance, empathy, and helping others appear throughout the book. Isaac and Marco work hard, using a "mamba mentality," and support each other in order to reach their goals. They openly communicate about their feelings and fears, cry in front of each other and offer verbal and physical support- hugging and holding hands for comfort. The entire basketball team supports Marco, even when they find out he's not a great player. One of the team's members is a girl who's not only treated the same as everyone else, but looked up to for her toughness. Characters are also shown apologizing and forgiving one another.
Positive Role Models
Isaac looks up to Marco for being "really polite, really nice, super responsible". Despite not being very athletic, Marco is also self-confident and a good sport about being "height shamed." Isaac is "super patient" teaching Marco basketball and wants to be more responsible for his mama. He and his friends also stick up for Marco when he's bullied at school. Both boys sincerely empathize with each other's precarious relationships with their fathers, and routinely put the other's needs before their own. There's nothing the boys can't tell each other, they're willing to cry in front of each other and talk openly about their feelings and problems. The boys' mamas are warm and caring. Isaac's mom is a successful business owner and a very hard worker who's "not too proud to unclog a toilet."
Isaac is Mexican American, Marco is Jewish and Mexican. Isaac's father struggles with depression and alcoholism, and Marco has anxiety attacks. All of the central characters are boys, but there's a girl on their basketball team who they like and respect.
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Violence & Scariness
The P.E. teacher at school warns against various bullying behaviors. Marco is bullied about his height, he's called names, picked up and carried around like a baby, and has his pants pulled down at school. The same bully throws an elbow at Issac while they're running in P.E. class. Isaac tries to stop a boy from posting an embarrassing video and accidentally pushes him backward over a desk, causing him to break his ankle. Isaac's father tells a story about growing up "in the hood" when a bunch of "homies" hit his friend over and over. Isaac talks about his parents' arguing and yelling as being normal. He's scared when his dad picks him up from school while drunk and drives him home. Spanking is mentioned. And adult is in a drunk driving accident and is seen in the hospital with wires and tubes sticking out of him.
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"Hella."There's some potty humor and the boys reference their "privates" and "tenders." Marco says there's "cringy language" in the locker room and "words I never heard before middle school." Mild verbal bullying. Parents on Marco's soccer team call him names when he doesn't play well.
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Products & Purchases
Isaac's dad buys a fancy TV and video game system to try to impress him. Ghirardelli chocolate is mentioned by name.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Isaac's dad's alcoholism is a recurring plot point. Isaac states his parents fought, and his father eventually moved out, because of his heavy drinking. At one point, his father tells him he can only resist on the days he knows he'll be picking him up from school. His dad does pick him up from school while he's drunk one day when Isaac is sick. Isaac is scared and worries about other adults intervening and stopping him from seeing his dad. He also worries about his dad driving while drunk. An adult gets into a drunk driving accident, admits he has a problem, apologizes and says he's going to do everything he can to get help.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Falling Short, by Ernesto Cisneros (Efrén Divided), is an uplifting story of two Latino middle school boys doing everything they can to support each other and make their parents proud. There are many positive themes including perseverance, empathy, inclusion and helping others throughout the book. Isaac and Marco work hard, using a "mamba mentality," and support each other to reach their goals. They openly communicate about their feelings and fears, cry in front of each other and offer verbal and physical support -- hugging and holding hands for comfort. Both classmates and family members are shown apologizing and forgiving one another, and the book ends on a very positive note. Aside from some bathroom humor, there's very little strong language. Marco is bullied about his height, picked up and carried around like a baby, and has his pants are pulled down at school. The same bully throws an elbow at Issac while they're running in PE class. Isaac's father tells a story about growing up "in the hood," when a bunch of "homies" hit his friend over and over. Isaac talks about his parents' arguing and yelling as being normal. He's scared and worried when his dad picks him up from school while drunk and drives him home. Spanking is mentioned. An adult gets in a drunk driving accident and is seen in the hospital with a lot of wires and tubes sticking out of him.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
In FALLING SHORT, Isaac and Marco already know sixth grade is going to change their lives. But it won't change things at home -- not without each other's help. This year, star basketball player Isaac plans on finally keeping up with his schoolwork. Better grades will surely stop Isaac's parents from arguing all the time. Meanwhile, straight-A Marco vows on finally winning his father's approval by earning a spot on the school's basketball team. But will their friendship and support for each other be enough to keep the two boys from falling short?
Is It Any Good?
This is a tender tale about two steadfast friends who will do anything to help each other reach their goals and make their parents proud. Falling Short sets itself apart with a pair of extremely likable protagonists who aren't afraid to be themselves, try hard, and - most notably -- talk to each other about their feelings. Middle grade readers need more characters like Marco and Isaac period, but especially from cultures that are under-represented in the books they read. Most striking is the boys' uncommon willingness to be vulnerable. These boys not only regularly stick up for each another among their peers, they cry in front of each other, hug, and share emotions that many boys their age have trouble naming, including shame, fear, and regret. They also display true empathy for each other and their parents. So much so, that the selfless attitudes and actions edge toward unrealistic. In truth, this is a book that readers a little younger than Marco and Issac will enjoy the most, as the two make a perfectly aspirational, if not completely believable, duo.
While the boys may be noticeably missing any pre-teen attitudes, their identity struggles are nonetheless spot on. Issac wrestles with staying organized and completing his work in school, leading to worries that his parents are divorcing because he's not the son they always wanted and deserve. Marco, a kid who's been in advanced placement classes his whole life, panics and feels like an imposter the first time he doesn't understand a math lesson right away. He also experiences deep feelings of abandonment from his father, as well as occasional panic attacks, which Isaac not only knows about, but also knows how to help Marco manage. Both boys have to come to terms with utterly relatable feelings of middle school inadequacy, and they lean on each other while finding their way.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Marco and Isaac's close friendship and both boys' strong communication skills. The boys say multiple times in the book that they can tell each other anything, and both let the other see them cry. Why is it important to be a good communicator with your friends and family?
How do Marco and Isaac each display empathy towards each another? How does that make their friendship stronger?
The chapters in this book are only a few pages long each. Do you prefer books with longer or shorter chapters? Why?
- Author: Ernesto Cisneros
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Middle School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Empathy, Gratitude, Perseverance
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Quill Tree Books
- Publication date: March 15, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, Kindle
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 24, 2022
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Where to Read
Our Editors Recommend
Books About Friendship
Books with Latino Characters
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