What Lane?

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
What Lane? Book Poster Image
Biracial 6th-grader torn between groups in sweet novel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn about the Black Lives Matter Movement, the killing of Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old African-American boy) by the police, and the killing of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz (a 15-year-old Dominican American youth) by gang members after a store owner refused to give him safe harbor.

Positive Messages

Trust that you have friends and allies. You belong in this world; don't worry, you'll figure out where you fit.

Positive Role Models

A sixth-grade White boy learns how to be an ally for his Black friend. A teacher facilitates a supportive classroom discussion about racial violence in the U.S. Parents display respect for one another as they grapple with a significant disagreement about how to discuss important matters with their child.

Violence

In one scene, a couple of White boys throw an object at a Black boy, leaving him with a knot on his head. Middle-school students and adults discuss their reactions to news items involving killings of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy) by the police, and Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz, (a 15-year-old Dominican American youth) by gang members after a store owner refused to give him safe harbor.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Superheros, including Spiderman and the Green Hornet, preoccupy the boys in the story.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado (Tight), Stephen, a sixth-grader with a White mother and a Black father, begins to come to terms with the racial dynamics among his friends in Brooklyn, and the challenges he'll face navigating life as a Black teen boy in the United States. The primary influences in Stephen's life are his long-term friend Dan (who's White), a crew of White kids, and a separate crew of Black kids. When Dan's cousin Chad moves to town, he teases and bullies Stephen. Stephen is hurt. He opens up to Dan, who gradually becomes a proactive ally. There's one scene where a couple of White boys throw an object at a Black boy, leaving him with a knot on his head. Middle school students and adults discuss their reactions to news items involving killings of Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old African American boy) by the police, and Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz (a 15-year-old Dominican American youth) by gang members after a store owner refused to give him safe harbor.

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What's the story?

When WHAT LANE? begins, Stephen, a sixth-grader with a Black father and White mother, has been best friends with Dan, who's White, for as long as he can remember. Dan's cousin Chad moves into town, and he's hanging out with them often. Chad makes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle digs about Stephen's race. Stephen has noticed that adults react very differently to his boyish mischief than to the same behaviors from his White counterparts. His Black father does his best to educate Stephen about how he'll be seen as a Black teen. His mother is uncomfortable with these ideas and insists on referring to her son as "mixed." Stephen has one crew of White friends and one crew of Black friends. It troubles him that these groups of kids segregate themselves, because he believes they'd all like each other if they tried. He worries the world will force him to choose "a lane" as he grows up.

Is it any good?

This sweet story paints a realistic picture of middle-school drama. For What Lane?, author Torrey Maldonado draws on his 20 years of experience as a teacher. The main character, a boy with a White mother and a Black father, is both innocent and wise. He lets himself open his eyes to the challenges he confronts in a world where race matters more than he wishes it would. At the same time, he remains optimistic about the possibility of bridging differences between communities. The book presents a thoughtful illustration of the difference between being a friend and being an ally.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how peer pressure gets kids in trouble in What Lane? Have you ever felt pushed to do something you know isn't right?

  • The kids in What Lane? form cliques that avoid hanging out with each other. Are there different groups like this in your school?

  • Have you ever had to stand up for a friend against someone else? Has a friend ever stood up for you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of middle school and boys

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