In Slider, 14-year-old David is a quintessential middle child. His sister Bridgette is in college and the family’s academic success story. Mal, his younger brother is on the autism spectrum, although his family prefers not to use the autism label. Mal is almost non-verbal and only says the word “okay.” David has always has a large appetite and an interest in competitive eating, but after he accidentally leaves a $2000 bill on his mother’s credit card, he’s forced to join a pizza eating contest to win the grand prize of $5000.
In between finding his place in the family and trying not to ruin his internal organs by overeating, David also has to navigate the fact that his two oldest friends Cyn and HeyMan might be dating each other. Where does that leave him? As the third musketeer still, or an unwanted third wheel?
I was surprised by how much I liked this story. David is a funny, insightful, lovable character, and I liked his family a lot too. The author manages to create parents who are not bumbling fools but still grant an a believable amount of leeway to allow David enter competitive eating. I’m not a huge reader of books with male protagonists — something about the voice doesn’t quite do it for me. But I got into this one much quicker than I usually would. Maybe it’s because it’s so funny and the audiobook narrator does an excellent job.
Although, this isn’t an OwnVoices book where neurodiversity is concerned (as far as I know), the autism rep is thoughtful and seems realistic. I liked that Mal doesn’t become “miraculously” verbal by the end of the book. The center of this book is competitive eating — something I didn’t even know existed. It is both mouthwatering and nauseating how much food David eats in the course of this book. Yet, the author makes it a fun, eye-opening experience.
Finally, I liked the narrative arc of Cyn and HeyMan. Feeling like a third wheel can be challenging for anyone, but it was endearing to see how all three kids figured it out with minimal drama.
Slider is an engaging, funny, true-to-life story about competitive eating, navigating friendship dilemmas, understanding an autistic sibling, and finding one’s place in their family. David is easy to love and the family dynamics in this story are truly heartwarming. I would totally hand this to anyone looking to read more “boy books.” If you enjoy middle-grade books about food, friendship, or those with thoughtful neurodiversity rep (although not OwnVoices), this is one I would recommend.
Buy This Book
More Middle-Grade Books for Boys (with Male Protagonists)
- How to Make Friends with the Sea by Tanya Guerrero
- One Last Shot by John David Anderson
- Dough Boys by Paula Chase
- Things You Can’t Say by Jenn Bishop
Have you read this book or any others by Pete Hautman? Which other funny middle-grade books have you read and loved lately? I’d love to hear your recs!