While Alan Cole and his two not-friends sit together at lunch, he continually dreams of basic survival. His father's a harsh guy and hates something that happened with his own parents; his brother, Nathan, is a yard beyond the line between sibling antics and bully savageries; and his mother's a shy version of her former loving self. When Nathan discovers Alan has a secret crush on another guy at school, he challenges Alan to a series of impossible tasks to win the right not to be outed. Moving and important, the story sees Alan reluctantly enlisting his eccentric not-friends to help him win Nathan's challenge, though the pressure to fit in by staying quiet might just end up ruining any hope to learn he isn't a coward.
— Todd Wellman
Perfect for fans of Tim Federle and Gary Schmidt, this is a hilarious and poignant tale about the trials of middle school when you’re coming of age—and coming out.
Alan Cole can’t stand up to his cruel brother, Nathan. He can’t escape the wrath of his demanding father, who thinks he’s about as exceptional as a goldfish. And—scariest of all—he can’t let the cute boy across the cafeteria know he has a crush on him.
But when Nathan discovers Alan’s secret, his older brother announces a high-stakes round of Cole vs. Cole. Each brother must complete seven nearly impossible tasks; whoever finishes the most wins the game. If Alan doesn’t want to be outed to all of Evergreen Middle School, he’s got to become the most well-known kid in school, get his first kiss, and stand up to Dad. Alan’s determined to prove—to Nathan, to the world, to himself—that this goldfish can learn to swim.
May the best Cole win.
“Alan Cole starts out as a coward but doesn’t end as one in this harrowing but inspiring debut...The intensity of the family relationships is so effectively rendered that this book has the potential to appeal to older teens as well as a middle school audience.”
“With its well-developed characters, juxtaposition of supportive adult educators and aggressive parents, and message of hope, this novel feels like a contemporary version of Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. A strong debut.”
“This book is the Labors of Hercules for the middle-school set, complete with underwear jokes. Bell has written a compelling story that examines homophobic fathers and families and still manages to show Alan a way to see himself as a valuable member of a community—as an artist, even a brave artist.”
“There are books in this world that show us why it matters that we become our truest selves. This is one of them.”
“No funny bone will go untickled, no heartstring untugged. Alan Cole and his band of misfits from the Unstable Table are coming for both, with a story that’s as important as it is entertaining, as thought-provoking as it is heartwarming, and as courageous as it is hilarious.”
“An alluring setup and deft portrayal of middle school friendships are highlights of this impressive debut. Alan Cole is a complex character under pressure; we want to discover his fate!”