Gr 5–7—Seventh-grade video-game wiz, Luke Abbott, attends Forest Shade Middle School, the losing-est school in the history of middle schools. Its raccoon-costumed mascot is the coach's 72-year-old mom; Chuck, the classroom guinea pig, was on the football roster for two seasons before anyone noticed; and the only trophy in the office was for "World's Best Secretary." When Life Skills teacher, Mr. Terry, starts a robotics team, Luke is unhappily corralled into joining the Rallying Robo-Raccoons. The team is a collection of misfits: "Toezilla" who's claim to fame is that she can eat, write, and paint with her toes; the Jacobs, two nonidentical identical boys who do everything exactly the same; and Stuart, a nonstop sunflower seed cruncher and spitter. Worst of all is Missy the Cruel who has bullied and tortured Luke since he was six. Things get worse when Lunchbox Jones, the scariest kid at Forest Shade, shows up lugging his mysterious and ominous lunch box. Luke's misery continues at home. He feels betrayed by his former best friend and brother who abandons him to join the Marines. Missy joins the rival school, but makes sure to hack into the robotic program before she goes, destroying the team's self-confidence. Only Luke and Lunchbox remain to create the school's first robot and compete in the upcoming tournament. This extremely warmhearted and hilarious coming-of-age story abounds with memorable and lovingly imperfect characters. The real trophies in this tale are the caring friendships that develop among Luke and his teammates, and the knowledge that growing up and changing will never destroy the bonds of close brotherly love. VERDICT A heartwarming journey of self-discovery and the importance of friendship.—Diane McCabe, John Muir Elementary, Santa Monica, CA
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