This month on WNDMG, we’re excited to feature a guest post from author Chad Lucas. Chad’s debut middle grade, THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Abrams Books), releases next week–May 11.
In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “tenderhearted and bold,” and furthermore:
— Kirkus Reviews
Letting Boys Be Boys
By Chad Lucas
Here’s one not-so-secret reason why I love writing for middle-grade readers: there is no one—I mean no one—more hilarious than a group of middle schoolers in their natural habitat.
Outside of writing, I get to interact a lot with boys between 10-13 as a basketball coach. When I’m in the gym with my team, two things usually happen at least once during every practice or game:
- Some kid will try something that makes me think, “Why on earth did you do that?”
- Someone—often the same kid—will make me laugh with my whole chest.
Middle school boys are a riot. They’re full of opinions and bursting with questions, like “Can you dunk, Coach?” (With these 41-year-old knees? Child, please.) In that dynamic phase between childhood and full-blown teendom, they’re a whirlwind of contradictions and energy—busting out rap lyrics, piling on each other like puppies, inventing elaborate five-step celebrations for when one of them blows past a defender or swishes from deep like Damian Lillard.
They can be so sophisticated and funny, yet sometimes they’re not sure if they want to grow up.
“Puberty is gross and weird,” one particularly exuberant sixth-grader said at practice one night.
“It’s a natural stage of life. Everyone goes through it,” I offered.
“Not me, Coach,” he declared. That was my big laugh for the night.
I’ve tried to harness some of that whirlwind in my debut middle grade novel, Thanks a Lot, Universe—both the angst of dealing with changes big and small and the sheer joy of boys being boys.
Now, I know that’s a loaded phrase. “Boys will be boys” has been used to downplay or dismiss some inexcusable things. But I’m also aware of all the mixed messages that boys—especially Black boys—receive on what it means to be a boy, and how the world will see and treat them.
Toxic masculinity is a powerful thing. So is the insidious racism that can turn a sweet, playful Black or brown kid into a “threat” in mere seconds. Our boys aren’t always allowed to be boys.
I know a book can’t single-handedly solve those problems. But I hope that readers who pick up Thanks a Lot, Universe will see some healthy representation of how complex and fully human boys can be.
My main characters, Brian and Ezra, are both ballers. Brian also struggles with social anxiety that grows into full-blown panic attacks after a family crisis upends his life. Meanwhile, Ezra wants to help but he’s still coming to terms with his crush on Brian, and he’s not sure he’s ready to let his friends know how he really feels.
One of my older supporting characters, Gabe, is a high-school athlete who ends up befriending Brian and Ezra for reasons I won’t give away here. I’ve had multiple readers tell me how much they love Gabe, and I think it’s because he’s equal parts swagger and vulnerability. That’s what I love about him, anyway.
Without being heavy-handed about it, I think it’s important to give boys permission to contain multitudes. They can be loud, sporty, sweaty, goofy… and they can be artsy, anxious, sensitive, soft. They can question their sexuality, or what it means to identify as a boy. It helps when they see that full range of representation in books.
And boys, especially Black and brown boys, deserve to see those many facets of their identities explored with joy. Of course, that doesn’t mean we writers should never address difficult topics; there’s certainly some angst and heartache in Thanks a Lot, Universe. But some of my favourite scenes involve Ezra—a queer, biracial Black boy—just riffing with his friends, piling on jokes that grow increasingly ridiculous until they collapse into absurdity.
In a world where kids like Ezra are often reduced to issues, threats or problems to be solved, writing stories where they just get to be boys still feels like a small act of revolution.
Chad Lucas has been in love with words since he attempted his first novel on a typewriter in the sixth grade. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, communications advisor, freelance writer, part-time journalism instructor, and parenting columnist. A proud descendant of the historic African Nova Scotian community of Lucasville, he lives with his family in Nova Scotia. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching basketball, and he’s rarely far from a cup of tea. His debut middle-grade novel THANKS A LOT, UNIVERSE (Amulet Books/Abrams Kids) releases in May 2021.
Thanks A Lot, Universe
Brian has always been anxious, whether at home or in class or on the basketball court. His dad tries to get him to stand up for himself, and his mom helps as much as she can, but after he and his brother are placed in foster care, Brian starts having panic attacks. And he doesn’t know if things will ever be “normal” again…
Ezra’s always been popular. He’s friends with most of the kids on his basketball team—even Brian, who usually keeps to himself. But now, some of his friends have been acting differently, and Brian seems to be pulling away. Ezra wants to help, but he worries if he’s too nice to Brian, his friends will realize he has a crush on him…
But when Brian and his brother run away, Ezra has no choice but to take the leap and reach out. Both boys have to decide if they’re willing to risk sharing parts of themselves they’d rather hide. But if they can be brave, they might just find the best in themselves—and in each other.
We Need Diverse Middle-Grade posts once a month, drawing on work from our own team of MUF contributors as well as from guest authors, editors, agents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers. You can count on our presence here on Mixed-Up Files to shine a light on the stories, work, and truth of all those who are still underrepresented in this field. You’ll be able to recognize our monthly posts by seeing our WNDMG logo: the diverse world we envision. Our artwork is by contributor Aixa Perez-Prado.
Guest Posts for We Need Diverse Middle Grade
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