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What Lane?

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"If you are wondering how to begin confronting Anti-Black racism in your classroom, start with What Lane?"--School Library Journal: The Classroom Bookshelf

"STAY IN YOUR LANE." Stephen doesn't want to hear that--he wants to have no lane.
 
Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn't think it's his lane, but he goes. Here's the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he's not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he's living in two worlds with different rules--and he's been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends . . .
 
So what'll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his--and who should be with him.
 
Torrey Maldonado, author of the highly acclaimed Tight, does a masterful job showing a young boy coming of age in a racially split world, trying to blaze a way to be his best self.
© Torrey Maldonado
Torrey Maldonado is a teacher born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he still lives. Secret Saturdays is inspired by his life and the experiences of his students. View titles by Torrey Maldonado
Chapter 1
 
“This movie is lit.” Dan aims his TV remote to start Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. “Chad hated it. I played it for him here. All he said was ‘Trash. They shoulda kept Spider-Man white.’”
“What?!” I shake my head. “He’s wack. How you both even cousins?”
He lowers the remote. “He’s not wack.”
My parents’ voices in my head say, Blood is thicker than water. Family picks family over friends.
I ease up and stare at the window.
Chad is Dan’s cousin, and he just moved to our neighborhood. He’s a sixth grader like us. So far, I’m not feeling him. Anything I say, he contradicts. Any­time I’m around, he puts me down.
I hate how Dan doesn’t notice and now even defends him.
Me and Dan live in connecting buildings and we’re over at each other’s so much, we practically live in the same apartment. And we’re both into superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, and similar stuff. Basi­cally, we’re twins, except we look opposite. He’s white-white. I’m not. People sometimes call me Stephen Curry from basketball because of our names, skin color, and features. We even fade our fros similar.
“So, Stephen, not only is this new Spider-Man almost our age, it gets better. He’s from Brooklyn too. His full name is Miles Morales, he’s fourteen, and—”
I’m amped again. “Skip explaining. Show me.”
“Just so you know, the movie is kinda violent, so don’t get scared.”
“Dan, you funny. You know all movies are my lane.”
“Nah! You run if people get hurt or bloody.”
“Run?! When?
He sits next to me and poses like me watch­ing TV. “This wasn’t you? When we saw Stranger Things?” His leg gets jumpy and he changes his voice into mine: “I’ma get ice cream. You want?”
“What?! I didn’t do that.”
“Yeah. You. Did.”
I stare from him to my wrist, at the only bracelet I rock. It’s black with bright white glow-in-the-dark letters that say WHAT LANE?
Last year, I got it on a school trip to a Barclays Center basketball game. There, this player Marshall Carter, nicknamed MC, was on that next next level. He kept scoring—any way he wanted. Everyone else had a lane. They had sick passes or swished in half-court shots. Marshall was wavy in every lane. He bagged three-pointers, passed like whoa, and did crossovers that made guys fall on their butts. And almost every time he scored, he’d yell, “What lane?!” and WHAT LANE? flashed on the JumboTron. He had no lane.
That day, I bought MC’s bracelet after the game. I wanted his saying on my arm. What lane?!
I want to be that: in every lane, have no lane.
Now I thumb my bracelet. “Dan, this movie is my lane too. Press Play.”
Dan aims his remote at the screen, and when it starts, we point. “Times Square!”
Then we shout again: “Empire State Building!”
New York City spots at night keep flashing. This. Is. So. Tight! I love when my city gets to shine.
At one point, he elbows me. “How wild is it that Miles can pass for you or your brother, if you had one?”
“Facts.” Miles Morales could be me. He’s half African American too, and even though his other side is Puerto Rican and mine is white, most people say we Black.
I can’t believe Chad called this movie trash. Me and Dan are into it–into it.
Most movies have superheroes who match Dan and Chad: Captain America, Superman, Thor, the Flash, and more.
It’s wavy that this Spider-Man looks like half of my family.
We’re all the way into a scene when we hear Dan’s dad shout, “Dan!”
Dan rolls his eyes. “Try to ignore him. This movie is whoa, right?”
“Yeah. It stays this good?”
“Whaaaaat?! It gets way better.”
“DANIEL!” his dad yells now. “Didn’t you hear me? It’s time for Stephen to go. And time for you to take out the trash. Now.
“Ugh!” Dan shuts off the TV and we bounce.
 
 Chapter 2
 
The trash dumpster is in front of an alley in between me and Dan’s buildings. Sometimes, shady guys who don’t live here dip in and out of the alley. The only time me and Dan ever went past the dumpster was when our old super, who took care of our buildings, let us check out the Halloween deco­rations he kept in the basement. He was cool. This new super? Nah. He’s not. He eyes me funny.
Dan spots something. “You see the top of the ramp?”
I check the ramp attached to his building. “The mask?”
“Yeah. Scary eyes, right?”
I kinda wish I wasn’t seeing this scary werewolf mask. Its lips growl back real angry, showing long bloody fangs, and its cheek is torn open, half-eaten. But it’s more than that—it’s how the mask sits on top of a mop that leans against the wall that makes it scarier. It reminds me of a vampire movie trailer that showed these human heads stuck on poles like trophies.
Sometimes horror trailers pop up on the screen with no warning and I see things I wish I could for­get. Then I end up with nightmares.
Dan says, “I wonder if the new super is getting out Halloween decorations for our lobbies.”
That makes sense. It’s almost Halloween.
Dan squints. “Hold up.”
“What?”
“Look down the ramp.”
The metal door at the bottom is propped open with a brick. Usually it’s locked.
Dan’s curious. “You think he’s down there?”
I shrug.
“C’mon,” he says. “Let’s check. Maybe he’ll let us mess with Halloween stuff like the last super.”
“Nah, this super’s not that way,” I say. “And what if we run into a shady head who . . . ?”
Dan ignores me, flops his trash into the dump­ster, and turns and tiptoes into the alley.
I watch him. I can’t let him go solo—he’s my boy. I follow.
Dan nods at me. “You ready, Miles?”
Him calling me Spider-Man amps me up. Miles’d go down this alley, easy. Yeah, I got this. From the top of the ramp, the door is an open mouth—grinning us in, or waiting to swallow us.
“What you think?” he asks. “Anyone down there?”
I grab his forearm. “Hold up.”
In this sci-fi show I saw, a girl did something smart. She stood at a doorway and threw something into a room to see if the monster hiding would jump out.
I grab a baseball-size rock off the floor and pitch it.
CLANG! My rock clanks off the metal door.
Dan’s confused. “Why you throw that fo—?”
“If someone’s in there, we’ll know. They’ll come out.”
He watches the door. “Oh. Smart.”
No one comes out.
I smile. “We good.”
We slowly creep down the ramp and don’t even get halfway when a guy pedaling fast-fast on a moun­tain bike flies past us.
Top speed, me and Dan sprint up the ramp and back outside, where Junior, our new super, shouts from where he’s fixing a window up on the fire escape. He’s mad, waving his fist at the biker. “Come back here! Thief!”
Then he yells at us. No. At me. “That boy your friend?”
Dan is SOS—Stuck On Stupid. So am I.
Huh? Junior’s asking if he’s my friend?
Dan yells up at the fire escape, “No! We don’t know him. What happened?”
“Ay! That’s my bike! I keep it down there. He took it!” Junior waves Dan off and points at me. “YOU! You know that boy!”
He’s not asking. He’s saying.
“Wha—?!” I’m shocked. “No! Why would I know h—?”
Junior interrupts me. “You told your friend to take it?”
Just then, three things hit me. First, Junior is for real and swears I know that bike thief. Second, he automatically feels Dan is innocent. Then, as I real­ize the third thing, it comes out my mouth. “Because we’re Black.”
Dan hears me. “What?”
“Dude. Junior thinks me and that bike thief are tight since we both Black.”
“Nah. I don’t think so.”
Junior’s eyes now laser in on me and he starts cursing in Spanish.
Dan yells up at Junior, “Don’t be mad at us. Be mad at you! This is your fault! If you locked up your bike, you’d have one!”
“C’mon.” I tap Dan. “Forget him.”
As we pass the trash dumpster, he fist-bumps me so we can split into our separate buildings.
But before he leaves, Dan says, “Stephen. Junior was foul. Like we did something bad.”
In my head, I think, No, not we. He was foul like I did something bad.

Educator Guide for What Lane?

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

* “In an NYC landscape deeply shaped by race, sixth grader Stephen struggles to speak his piece. . . . Maldonado pursues a story about biracial boyhood, healthy friendships, and self-discovery while gesturing toward the influence of social movements like Black Lives Matter in reshaping what accountable friendship looks like. Voiced in the creative language of NYC youth, the novel models what it means to embrace the power of self-awareness and relationships built on mutual respect. Bridges everyday racism and accountable allyship with sincerity.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

*
“Engaging, timely novel. . . . Maldonado (Tight) paints a vivid, relatable picture of an adventurous boy learning the rewards and dangers of straying out of his lane against the backdrop of an unfair system that could see him killed or arrested for the behaviors his white peers easily engage in. The characters are warmly realistic, by turns impulsive and regretful. In relatively few words, Maldonado elucidates matters related to racial profiling, police violence against black people, and allyship, all through the eyes of a brave kid trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

*
“Maldonado depicts his young hero’s awakening to the ugly realities of contemporary American racism. Caught between his best friend Dan, and Dan’s racist cousin Chad; straddling the line between his overprotective, naive white mother and his realist, all-too-aware Black father; and doing his best to integrate his middle school friend group, biracial Stephen is finding it tricky to ‘stay wide in all lanes.’ . . . Maldonado uses a biracial adolescent boy’s perspective to draw his readers into an engaging story of identity and tough choices that will appeal to middle schoolers everywhere. An ideal choice for school book clubs and advisory.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Sixth-graders Stephen and Dan are so close that they could be twins aside from their race difference, but that difference is beginning to matter to the outside world. . . . Presents an honest account of a Black boy who has to grow up faster than his white friends, all while wishing his friend groups could just be together regardless of race. . . . Makes the point that the frequency of racist encounters means they’re daunting yet mundane, and there is an interesting dynamic between Stephen’s Black father and white mother, who both want to protect their son but take different approaches. His father and friend Wes both tie in real life details about current events such as Tamir Rice’s shooting and the Black Lives Matter movement, which adds to the authenticity and could make this selection a discussion starter.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

About

"If you are wondering how to begin confronting Anti-Black racism in your classroom, start with What Lane?"--School Library Journal: The Classroom Bookshelf

"STAY IN YOUR LANE." Stephen doesn't want to hear that--he wants to have no lane.
 
Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn't think it's his lane, but he goes. Here's the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he's not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he's living in two worlds with different rules--and he's been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends . . .
 
So what'll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his--and who should be with him.
 
Torrey Maldonado, author of the highly acclaimed Tight, does a masterful job showing a young boy coming of age in a racially split world, trying to blaze a way to be his best self.

Author

© Torrey Maldonado
Torrey Maldonado is a teacher born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where he still lives. Secret Saturdays is inspired by his life and the experiences of his students. View titles by Torrey Maldonado

Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
“This movie is lit.” Dan aims his TV remote to start Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. “Chad hated it. I played it for him here. All he said was ‘Trash. They shoulda kept Spider-Man white.’”
“What?!” I shake my head. “He’s wack. How you both even cousins?”
He lowers the remote. “He’s not wack.”
My parents’ voices in my head say, Blood is thicker than water. Family picks family over friends.
I ease up and stare at the window.
Chad is Dan’s cousin, and he just moved to our neighborhood. He’s a sixth grader like us. So far, I’m not feeling him. Anything I say, he contradicts. Any­time I’m around, he puts me down.
I hate how Dan doesn’t notice and now even defends him.
Me and Dan live in connecting buildings and we’re over at each other’s so much, we practically live in the same apartment. And we’re both into superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, and similar stuff. Basi­cally, we’re twins, except we look opposite. He’s white-white. I’m not. People sometimes call me Stephen Curry from basketball because of our names, skin color, and features. We even fade our fros similar.
“So, Stephen, not only is this new Spider-Man almost our age, it gets better. He’s from Brooklyn too. His full name is Miles Morales, he’s fourteen, and—”
I’m amped again. “Skip explaining. Show me.”
“Just so you know, the movie is kinda violent, so don’t get scared.”
“Dan, you funny. You know all movies are my lane.”
“Nah! You run if people get hurt or bloody.”
“Run?! When?
He sits next to me and poses like me watch­ing TV. “This wasn’t you? When we saw Stranger Things?” His leg gets jumpy and he changes his voice into mine: “I’ma get ice cream. You want?”
“What?! I didn’t do that.”
“Yeah. You. Did.”
I stare from him to my wrist, at the only bracelet I rock. It’s black with bright white glow-in-the-dark letters that say WHAT LANE?
Last year, I got it on a school trip to a Barclays Center basketball game. There, this player Marshall Carter, nicknamed MC, was on that next next level. He kept scoring—any way he wanted. Everyone else had a lane. They had sick passes or swished in half-court shots. Marshall was wavy in every lane. He bagged three-pointers, passed like whoa, and did crossovers that made guys fall on their butts. And almost every time he scored, he’d yell, “What lane?!” and WHAT LANE? flashed on the JumboTron. He had no lane.
That day, I bought MC’s bracelet after the game. I wanted his saying on my arm. What lane?!
I want to be that: in every lane, have no lane.
Now I thumb my bracelet. “Dan, this movie is my lane too. Press Play.”
Dan aims his remote at the screen, and when it starts, we point. “Times Square!”
Then we shout again: “Empire State Building!”
New York City spots at night keep flashing. This. Is. So. Tight! I love when my city gets to shine.
At one point, he elbows me. “How wild is it that Miles can pass for you or your brother, if you had one?”
“Facts.” Miles Morales could be me. He’s half African American too, and even though his other side is Puerto Rican and mine is white, most people say we Black.
I can’t believe Chad called this movie trash. Me and Dan are into it–into it.
Most movies have superheroes who match Dan and Chad: Captain America, Superman, Thor, the Flash, and more.
It’s wavy that this Spider-Man looks like half of my family.
We’re all the way into a scene when we hear Dan’s dad shout, “Dan!”
Dan rolls his eyes. “Try to ignore him. This movie is whoa, right?”
“Yeah. It stays this good?”
“Whaaaaat?! It gets way better.”
“DANIEL!” his dad yells now. “Didn’t you hear me? It’s time for Stephen to go. And time for you to take out the trash. Now.
“Ugh!” Dan shuts off the TV and we bounce.
 
 Chapter 2
 
The trash dumpster is in front of an alley in between me and Dan’s buildings. Sometimes, shady guys who don’t live here dip in and out of the alley. The only time me and Dan ever went past the dumpster was when our old super, who took care of our buildings, let us check out the Halloween deco­rations he kept in the basement. He was cool. This new super? Nah. He’s not. He eyes me funny.
Dan spots something. “You see the top of the ramp?”
I check the ramp attached to his building. “The mask?”
“Yeah. Scary eyes, right?”
I kinda wish I wasn’t seeing this scary werewolf mask. Its lips growl back real angry, showing long bloody fangs, and its cheek is torn open, half-eaten. But it’s more than that—it’s how the mask sits on top of a mop that leans against the wall that makes it scarier. It reminds me of a vampire movie trailer that showed these human heads stuck on poles like trophies.
Sometimes horror trailers pop up on the screen with no warning and I see things I wish I could for­get. Then I end up with nightmares.
Dan says, “I wonder if the new super is getting out Halloween decorations for our lobbies.”
That makes sense. It’s almost Halloween.
Dan squints. “Hold up.”
“What?”
“Look down the ramp.”
The metal door at the bottom is propped open with a brick. Usually it’s locked.
Dan’s curious. “You think he’s down there?”
I shrug.
“C’mon,” he says. “Let’s check. Maybe he’ll let us mess with Halloween stuff like the last super.”
“Nah, this super’s not that way,” I say. “And what if we run into a shady head who . . . ?”
Dan ignores me, flops his trash into the dump­ster, and turns and tiptoes into the alley.
I watch him. I can’t let him go solo—he’s my boy. I follow.
Dan nods at me. “You ready, Miles?”
Him calling me Spider-Man amps me up. Miles’d go down this alley, easy. Yeah, I got this. From the top of the ramp, the door is an open mouth—grinning us in, or waiting to swallow us.
“What you think?” he asks. “Anyone down there?”
I grab his forearm. “Hold up.”
In this sci-fi show I saw, a girl did something smart. She stood at a doorway and threw something into a room to see if the monster hiding would jump out.
I grab a baseball-size rock off the floor and pitch it.
CLANG! My rock clanks off the metal door.
Dan’s confused. “Why you throw that fo—?”
“If someone’s in there, we’ll know. They’ll come out.”
He watches the door. “Oh. Smart.”
No one comes out.
I smile. “We good.”
We slowly creep down the ramp and don’t even get halfway when a guy pedaling fast-fast on a moun­tain bike flies past us.
Top speed, me and Dan sprint up the ramp and back outside, where Junior, our new super, shouts from where he’s fixing a window up on the fire escape. He’s mad, waving his fist at the biker. “Come back here! Thief!”
Then he yells at us. No. At me. “That boy your friend?”
Dan is SOS—Stuck On Stupid. So am I.
Huh? Junior’s asking if he’s my friend?
Dan yells up at the fire escape, “No! We don’t know him. What happened?”
“Ay! That’s my bike! I keep it down there. He took it!” Junior waves Dan off and points at me. “YOU! You know that boy!”
He’s not asking. He’s saying.
“Wha—?!” I’m shocked. “No! Why would I know h—?”
Junior interrupts me. “You told your friend to take it?”
Just then, three things hit me. First, Junior is for real and swears I know that bike thief. Second, he automatically feels Dan is innocent. Then, as I real­ize the third thing, it comes out my mouth. “Because we’re Black.”
Dan hears me. “What?”
“Dude. Junior thinks me and that bike thief are tight since we both Black.”
“Nah. I don’t think so.”
Junior’s eyes now laser in on me and he starts cursing in Spanish.
Dan yells up at Junior, “Don’t be mad at us. Be mad at you! This is your fault! If you locked up your bike, you’d have one!”
“C’mon.” I tap Dan. “Forget him.”
As we pass the trash dumpster, he fist-bumps me so we can split into our separate buildings.
But before he leaves, Dan says, “Stephen. Junior was foul. Like we did something bad.”
In my head, I think, No, not we. He was foul like I did something bad.

Guides

Educator Guide for What Lane?

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Praise

* “In an NYC landscape deeply shaped by race, sixth grader Stephen struggles to speak his piece. . . . Maldonado pursues a story about biracial boyhood, healthy friendships, and self-discovery while gesturing toward the influence of social movements like Black Lives Matter in reshaping what accountable friendship looks like. Voiced in the creative language of NYC youth, the novel models what it means to embrace the power of self-awareness and relationships built on mutual respect. Bridges everyday racism and accountable allyship with sincerity.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

*
“Engaging, timely novel. . . . Maldonado (Tight) paints a vivid, relatable picture of an adventurous boy learning the rewards and dangers of straying out of his lane against the backdrop of an unfair system that could see him killed or arrested for the behaviors his white peers easily engage in. The characters are warmly realistic, by turns impulsive and regretful. In relatively few words, Maldonado elucidates matters related to racial profiling, police violence against black people, and allyship, all through the eyes of a brave kid trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

*
“Maldonado depicts his young hero’s awakening to the ugly realities of contemporary American racism. Caught between his best friend Dan, and Dan’s racist cousin Chad; straddling the line between his overprotective, naive white mother and his realist, all-too-aware Black father; and doing his best to integrate his middle school friend group, biracial Stephen is finding it tricky to ‘stay wide in all lanes.’ . . . Maldonado uses a biracial adolescent boy’s perspective to draw his readers into an engaging story of identity and tough choices that will appeal to middle schoolers everywhere. An ideal choice for school book clubs and advisory.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“Sixth-graders Stephen and Dan are so close that they could be twins aside from their race difference, but that difference is beginning to matter to the outside world. . . . Presents an honest account of a Black boy who has to grow up faster than his white friends, all while wishing his friend groups could just be together regardless of race. . . . Makes the point that the frequency of racist encounters means they’re daunting yet mundane, and there is an interesting dynamic between Stephen’s Black father and white mother, who both want to protect their son but take different approaches. His father and friend Wes both tie in real life details about current events such as Tamir Rice’s shooting and the Black Lives Matter movement, which adds to the authenticity and could make this selection a discussion starter.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

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