Rachel Brooks is excited about being in seventh grade, in spite of the scoliosis she's keeping hidden from her friends. Playing on the school soccer team with her best friends, Hazel and Franniem, is even better now that she has a shot at playing offense, and everyone agrees her crush Tate might be interested in her. But when a doctor visit shows the curve in her spine has worsened, there's only one way to avoid surgery: "We have to brace her," the doctor tells her mother in his "robotic" voice. Rachel must wear a hard plastic back brace that reminds her of "a turtle shell, only it goes all the way around" for 23 hours a day--including at school--until she stops growing. Her new clothes won't hide the lumpy shape. Even worse, she'll have to wear the brace to soccer practice. When her friends start to act differently around her and soccer proves to be more of a challenge than expected and her mother--who also had scoliosis as a teen--doesn't seem to understand her struggles, Rachel wonders if it's possible to continue her old life.

Debut author Alyson Gerber's Braced confronts readers with the awkward and painful realities of scoliosis, back braces and being different. Gerber herself spent three years in a back brace in her early teens, and her firsthand experience is well used. Casual remarks about Rachel's appearance sting the reader as much as Rachel, while her moments of bravery and decisiveness are inspiring. Gerber's cast of characters are wonderfully flawed and believable. Beautifully emotional, Braced will help readers recognize and celebrate their differences. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer

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