"Roll"

Lauren is a boy with a girl’s name. That’s his first problem. His second problem is that he's short in stature. In “Roll,” a heartfelt and original book by Darcy Miller, both Lauren’s size and his name cause him trouble with bullies at school.

Lauren, called Ren for short, was named after his late grandfather, a Navy Seal. His grandfather is no longer living, and neither is his grandmother, who passed away recently.

Her death prompts Lauren’s family to move into Ren’s grandparents’ house, just outside of town. This move isn’t popular with Ren; he enjoyed being near his best friend Aiden and being able to hang out with him, not needing an adult to drive them to visit each other.

Not long after Ren’s family relocates, he notices some birds flying in a strange fashion, circling and rolling in flight. This is Ren’s introduction to Birmingham Rollers, a unique breed of pigeon raised to compete in races.

The birds are put through their paces by an edgy girl with red hair striped with yellow and orange, and shorts she’s decorated with a Sharpie. Sutton Davies has just moved to Minnesota from Washington, D.C. Her father used to take the Rollers to competitions, but he’s laid up with an injury and so Sutton is training them.

Ren is in training too, getting ready to compete on his school’s cross-country team, a goal his father wants for him more than Ren does. Yet the 11-year-old doesn’t have the courage to tell his dad how he honestly feels, that running just isn’t his thing. He’s far more interested in helping Sutton train the Rollers, and developing a friendship with her, a girl his pal Aiden doesn’t think is anything special.

“Roll” captivates from the first page because of Ren, a boy young readers will empathize with, one who struggles with relationships old and new. Ren has some tough situations to weather in the friendship department, and then there’s his dad to deal with.

These dilemmas and the deepening friendship that develops between Ren and Sutton make this endearing book, perfect for children ages 8-12.