Twelve-Year-Old Boy: Do you know of any books about boys? I mean just the main characters. A few girls are all right, but the only books I’ve read this year the girls kind of take over the whole story. It’s getting really irritating.

Me: (with a slight grin). Here you go. I don’t need it back. After you’re done reading pass it on to someone else who might be looking for the same thing. Enjoy.

One of my favorite genres is a good old present day contemporary. What makes this new entry into the category even better: It’s a rare look at the deep friendship between two sixth grade boys. Narrator Matt is on the right with best buddy Eric sitting next to him. Here’s the official synopsis:

Best friends Matt and Eric are hatching a plan for one big final adventure together before Eric moves away: during the marching band competition at a Giant Amusement Park, they will sneak away to a nearby comics convention and meet their idol—a famous comic creator. Without cell phones. Or transportation. Or permission. Of course, their final adventure together is more than just that—really, it’s a way for the boys to celebrate their friendship, and their honest love and support for one another.

The first three fourths of The Boys in the Back Row is about their sixth grade year—playing in the K-8 school’s band and orchestra, right where they first became friends in 4th grade. They both play bass drum in the back row. But the year has a few bumps in the road given the nature of two bullies. One makes the loud, but wrong assumption they are gay. He also pours on the racist comments to Matt who is Korean American. The other bully is more likeable but also has a mean side.

Matt and Eric survive the taunts because they have to in their honest kid like way. What’s more important is making sure the plan to meet their comic book author-hero will work. Well, what could go wrong does go wrong in the last 25% of the story.

The final scenes as the two say goodbye are ones to cherish. Heartfelt and true to the core. Was that me wiping my eyes?



  1. Matt’s first person narration is a perfect look into the mind of a sixth grade boy. He’s a bright, sensitive, normal kid with fears and a quest to be a good person.
  2. What is being masculine? It’s what every boy must face in our society and they need to read this book to make it easier for them.
  3. Matt’s parents are great supportive characters (and not divorced!). Their discussions around Matt leave him with a a lot to think about. The world can look a little different than they describe.
  4. The fact Matt and Eric never succumb to hiding or changing their friendship to please others shows how strong it really is. Be who you are is a theme well spoken.
  5. A shining and rare example of boy friendship in the MG world.


Mike Jung is the author of “Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities” and contributed to the anthologies “Dear Teen Me,” “Break These Rules,” “59 Reasons to Write,” “Spoon Knife 3: Incursions,” and “The Hero Next Door.” He is a library professional by day, a writer by night, and a semi-competent ukulele player during all the times in between. Mike is proud to be a founding member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife and two young children. Find Mike at


I’ll be including a copy of this book in my holiday giveaway next month so stay tuned.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Middle Grade Book Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I’m enjoying more contemporary MG too. This sounds like a great book that’s really needed for boys. There aren’t enough books about these issues out there. Hoping my library will get this one in.

  2. “Good old present day contemporary”. Yep! Definitely need more of those. If your library has Acampora’s Danny Constantino’s First Date or Costner’s My Life as a Potato, your reader might like those as well.

  3. This sounds like a really good book for boys. Sixth grad is so hard, so it’s great for boys to have friends. When we grew up, sixth grade was still elementary, so there wasn’t the pressure of dating and relationship with girls that 6th graders deal with in Middle School. This sounds like a great read! Thanks for sharing. Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Danielle Hammelef says:

    If this book stirred so much emotion in you, then I’m adding it to my holiday/birthday wishlist. Friendship stories are my favorites and rarely do I find ones featuring boys. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. I like a good contemporary MG and this one sounds really good. I’m putting it on my TBR list. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    It really is ridiculous how few books feature friendships between boys—boys need to know that they can have friendships, even deep ones, as well! I heard about this book, and you make it sound absolutely excellent! Thanks for the wonderful post!

  7. This looks good! And that cover has me intrigued.

  8. Pingback: The 2020 GOLDEN CUP AWARDS | Always in the Middle…

  9. lindabrowne says:

    I’m late to the party here, Greg but better late than never! I’ll be adding this one to my reading pile. (I really like your ‘Books I’ve Reviewed’ list. That’s how I found my way to this post.)

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