Not an Easy Win

by Chrystal D Giles (Author)

Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

FOUR STARRED REVIEWS! Can Lawrence figure out how to get on the board, even though the odds are stacked against him?

Introducing a powerful novel about figuring out who you are when you don't make the rules--just right for middle-grade fans of Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds.

"Smart and moving."--Book Riot

Lawrence is ready for a win. . . .

Nothing's gone right for Lawrence since he had to move from Charlotte to Larenville, North Carolina, to live with his granny. When Lawrence ends up in one too many fights at his new school, he gets expelled. The fight wasn't his fault, but since his pop's been gone, it feels like no one listens to what Lawrence has to say.

Instead of going to school, Lawrence starts spending his days at the rec center, helping out a neighbor who runs a chess program. Some of the kids in the program will be picked to compete in the Charlotte Classic chess tournament. Could this be Lawrence's chance to go home?

Lawrence doesn't know anything about chess, but something about the center--and the kids there--feels right. Lawrence thought the game was over . . . but does he have more moves left than he thought?

Select format:

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
The characters are multidimensional and authentic, Complex issues, including poverty, parental incarceration, and racism, are explored with sensitivity, offering readers opportunities for reflection.


Starred Review
A wise and wonderful story.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-7--This empowering sophomore novel from Giles skillfully depicts a combination of tween topics rarely seen: the challenges and joys of growing up in a multigenerational household, persevering with an absent or incarcerated parent, and the very real struggle of identifying and expressing one's emotions. Lawrence has just moved from Charlotte, NC, and a school that was mostly Black to rural Larenville to live with his granny. His ma and sister Nikko are also missing his father, who has been in and out of prison, but they know living with Granny is their best shot at making it. Lawrence gets expelled for fighting in an almost all-white school and Granny says, "a man that doesn't work doesn't eat." She's hard on him, but he pushes himself to connect to Mr. Dennis, who helps run an after-school rec club. There Lawrence finishes his seventh-grade year online and learns competitive chess. It's a mind game, living with all this shame and embarrassment, but chess teaches him to harness this power to win and to build a caring circle of family and friends. He develops his first crush on confident Twyla and finds that Deuce, the kid who was hardest on him at first, becomes his good friend. The rising action is long, but it helps readers empathize with Lawrence. The climax and resolution are quick but satisfying. Giles writes confidently about too-often misunderstood boys who act out aggressively, and satisfactorily shows the power of logic and mental strength to win. Readers will learn the value of telling their stories. VERDICT This is an all-consuming read about a young Black boy finding community and purpose. Essential middle grade and tween realistic reading.--Jamie Winchell

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Expelled from largely white Andrew Jackson Middle School after being blamed for the fights that see him regularly beat up by bullies, a Black 12-year-old learns the game of chess in this heartfelt novel from Giles (Take Back the Block). When his now-incarcerated father left the family, Lawrence, his mother, and his eight-year-old sister moved from Charlotte to his religious grandmother's country house in Larenville, N.C., where they live with his twin cousins. Despite attempts to stay under the radar, Lawrence is expelled for the rest of the year, and Granny makes it clear that "a man that don't work don't eat." Listening to old-school music on his father's left-behind iPod as a means to feel his dad's presence, Lawrence looks for ways to spend time while completing the school year online. His luck starts to change when neighbor Mr. Dennis introduces him to an extracurriculars program at Carver Recreation Center, where he encounters Black peers, including chess queen Twyla, who "filled up the whole room with her sureness." Fans of Akeelah and the Bee and Brooklyn Castle will cherish this well-characterized, compassionately told story that touches on financial precarity, intergenerational community, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Ages 10-up. Agent: Elizabeth Bewley, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.


The importance of caring adults and of working through conflict are highlighted in this well-written story about a boy who deserves a win.

Review quotes

Giles gives readers an honest story about growing up in a world that affords few breaks to Black youth....each character is moving through the world with varied strengths and abilities. —The Bulletin 

Not an Easy Win is a meaningful, moving read, especially for those who feel misunderstood or out of place.—BookPage
Chrystal D Giles
Chrystal D. Giles is a champion for diversity in children's literature and made her debut with Take Back the Block, which has received multiple starred reviews. Chrystal lives outside Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and son and is currently working on her next middle grade novel. Visit her at and @creativelychrys.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication date
January 09, 2024
BISAC categories
JUV011010 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JUV013000 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | General
JUV039120 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Prejudice & Racism
Library of Congress categories
African Americans
North Carolina
African American boys
Recreation centers

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!