My busy schedule gives me time to feature two reviews per week with the majority of requests coming from authors, publishers, and publicists. The calendar fills up quick.

I always have a stack of books that I enjoyed but never found an available review slot on ALWAYS in the MIDDLE to feature these gems. They were all recommendations from other MMGM bloggers. This summer I’ll share a few of my favorites from the past twelve months beginning with WINK. Thanks to Rosi Hollinbeck for the recommendation.

Ross Maloy just wants to be a normal seventh grader. He doesn’t want to lose his hair, or wear a weird hat, or deal with the disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid.” But with his recent diagnosis of a rare eye cancer, blending in is off the table.

Based on Rob Harrell’s real life experience, and packed with comic panels and spot art, this incredibly personal and poignant novel is an unforgettable, heartbreaking, hilarious, and uplifting story of survival and finding the music, magic, and laughter in life’s weirdness.


First paragraph:

I’m lying on a steel table, all too aware of the giant ray gun pointed in my direction. It looks like one of those room-sized five-ton laser things supervillains use in movies. The kind they threaten to destroy the planet with.

This begins the emotional, funny, and gut wrenching look into a year Ross would prefer never happened. Or does he? Both old and new friendships are tested and the middle grade voice coming through is one of the strongest and accurate you’ll ever find in MG lit. Throughout the 41 chapters there will be points where you can’t stop reading and others where you will need to step away to take a deep breath.

Ross has a best friend, Abby, who helps be the support he needs as does his dad and step mom. It’s few other kids who make the journey difficult including the bear-like Jimmy (who has a nice character arc) and several others whose reasoning for their hurtful actions eventually becomes clear.

Cancer is not a fun topic to center a book around, but the story goes much further and looks at life in unexpected ways. Truly magical with a dose of music thrown in. Ross paves the way with his thoughts and revelations. It is time well spent to be along for the ride.

Spend a minute with author, Rob Harrell, as he introduces WINK:


  1. There’s backstory but it is relayed in a refreshing and never boring style. Scattered throughout the 320 pages you find out more about Ross’s mom, how the cancer was discovered, and many sidelights about classmates. Well done!
  2. Ross likes to draw and Batpig, the character he created, appears in cartoon panels at the end of several chapters. More insights embedded here how Ross feels about his threatening illness and life in general.
  3. Some surprising and welcome connections with Jerry, an older gentleman fighting his own cancer and Frank, a rock ‘n roll loving assistant in the treatment center. They both become essential components in the healing process for Ross.
  4. The scenes where Ross faces the inevitable, whether it be with his diagnosis or facing the often cruel world of Middle School, ramp up the tension in page turning fashion.
  5. The best book I’ve read with cancer as a backdrop. Highly recommended and it’s in paperback now!


Rob Harrell created and drew the internationally syndicated comic strip Big Top, as well as the acclaimed graphic novel Monster on the Hill. He also writes and draws the long-running daily comic strip Adam@Home.  He lives with his wife in Austin, Texas.


Comments are welcome below and I’ll be joining in the conversation this week. Also—be sure to visit the other MMGM bloggers.

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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15 Responses to WINK

  1. That’s awesome that you are squeezing in some books recommended by others in this group. This sounds like a fantastic story with the backdrop of cancer. And it’s great that it has a male protagonist. I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

  2. Pingback: MMGM for June 21, 2021 | Always in the Middle…

  3. Completely Full Bookshelf says:

    I’m excited to see some of the books you’ve been enjoying this year spotlighted over the summer! Your review of Wink was very powerful, and it sounds like there’s a lot of joy and humor packed into a poignant topic. I’ll keep this book in mind! Thanks so much for the great review!

  4. This book is up for our state award- so I brought it home this summer and it is one the 10 books I know I will be reading. 🙂 Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much. Loved hearing your thoughts.

  5. Every kid needs to see his/her story in a book, especially when there is such a strong focus on healing cancer and humor. I love the support around Ross. I look forward to reading this important book! Thanks for sharing today!

    • I wasn’t expecting to like this book but having a first person narrative with such a strong voice made the difference. The author was truly talking from his own life.

  6. Thanks for reviewing this. It’s peaked my interest. I’ve had this on my TBR pile for a while and now I hope to get to it this summer.

  7. I’m so glad you got a chance to read this. I knew you would like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Sue Heavenrich says:

    Just when I think I’ve got my TBR pile down to a manageable size, you post a review of a “gotta read”! Can’t wait to read it, and I know there are too many kids who can relate to this story.

  9. Jenni says:

    I generally stay away from cancer books, because I’ve just had too much experience with it in real life. But this sounds like it handles this topic in a very kid friendly way. And kids with cancer will be able to see themselves in this book.
    Thanks for featuring this!

  10. Interesting take on a cancer book! Thanks for sharing.

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