Aspiring fourth grade athlete Lori Block doesn’t mind that she’s been relegated to the “fifth quarter” on her school’s traveling basketball team; after all, playing with the not-as-good kids before the real game starts means she still gets to play! But it turns out the rules of basketball are a lot easier to follow than the social rules of friendship and family. Why don’t her friends ever want to play what she wants to at recess? And what is this new job her mom is being strangely secretive about? Fourth grade is shaping up to be a lot more confusing than she thought it would be. Will Lori be able to extend her persistence on the court to the other parts of her life before the buzzer sounds?
There’s something familiar and comforting about having one thing in your life that just works when it feels like everything around you is shifting and changing, leaving you overwhelmed and confused. For Lori, that thing is basketball. Even though she’s not the best at it (she and her friend Sophia are referred to as the “double dribble twins” by their coach, for example), her dogged determination as she puts in extra effort will be encouraging to readers who are learning that sometimes just because you love to do something doesn’t mean you’ll always be perfect at it right away. Additionally, Lori’s willingness to try new things (After school youth league! Overnight basketball camp and staying the night away from her parents for the first time! Playing with fifth graders on the playground!) even when they’re scary is something kids will identify with, too.
Mike Dawson doesn’t shy away from the intensity and occasional messiness of kid (and adult!) emotions, and his expressive illustrations bring those heightened feelings to life on the page. Lori’s struggles with fitting in with her friends as their interests shift and change are handled with humor and heart, and her social missteps have real consequences with solutions that feel realistic and age appropriate. And though it’s Lori who’s the focal point of The Fifth Quarter, you’ll find yourself rooting for and caring about her friends (especially Sophia and Elyse) and her parents, all fully fleshed out characters in their own right. In terms of diversity of characters, Lori and her family appear to be white, and some of the side characters (coaches, friends, etc.) are unspecified people of color.
Mike Dawson’s cartoonish art style is well matched with the fast pace of his storytelling, which makes fourth grade friendship drama and changes in home life dynamics feel as high stakes as a playoff game. The combination of bold, vivid color illustrations and occasionally exaggerated expressions on the characters’ faces place it firmly in a style aimed at younger readers, with a bit of a comic strip feel. And the basketball scenes are drawn in an animated, lively way that feels almost like watching a game on the page, a true bonus for a sports themed graphic novel. The Fifth Quarter would be a great fit for children’s and tween public and school library collections, especially where friendship stories, sports stories, and/or slice of life stories are popular. Hand this to fans of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Terri Libenson’s Emmie & Friends series, and Cathy G. Johnson’s The Breakaways. And if you enjoyed book one, get excited, because The Fifth Quarter: Hard Court, the conclusion of this graphic duology, is coming in 2022!
The Fifth Quarter
By Mike Dawson
First Second, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)