It’s so exciting to me when I find a new author I enjoy. It’s even better when that author delivers the same high caliber quality through a second project. And for me, it’s a cherry on top when that author happens to be self-published. That’s the case with author Dawn Malone and her second stand-alone middle grade novel, The Upside of Down.
Her first book, Bingo Summer, was a fun, light, rags-to-riches story with some deeper themes that touched on self-acceptance. The Upside of Down maintains that easy readability, but it takes a more serious turn, contrasting Hobbs, an all-star athlete from a middle class family, with peers from far less desirable circumstances. When Hobbs’ life twines with that of a runaway struggling to survive on the streets of his town, the difficult friendship they forge changes both of them forever. It’s a touching story of conscience, self-discovery, and grace.
It took me a little longer to be drawn into this one. There are a few more fringe characters to figure out before the focus really tightens around the main characters. This group of characters, Hobbs’ peers and athletes, are necessary to build a school setting, but they felt a little indistinct to me. I had trouble distinguishing between them sometimes. I wasn’t even sure what race they were. But it’s my single, solitary complaint. As in Bingo, I was soon caught up in the emotion of the central story and the beauty of the prose.
Twice now, Ms. Malone has delivered, sweet, clean reads that touch on deeper issues in a gentle, kid-friendly way. Both absolutely nail the child-maturing-into-adulthood complexities that make middle grade such a dynamic genre. I highly recommend both, and I suggest readers keep an eye out for whatever she has coming out next. I certainly will be.