With his novel Falling Short, Ernesto Cisneros writes a motivational book for middle grade readers. Taking inspiration from his own life and from a quote by Michelangelo, Cisneros concurs that “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” To convey this moral, Cisneros creates Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, two sixth graders at Mendez Middle School, who are looking for approval from their absent fathers.

A talented basketball player, Isaac is dedicated to the sport and to the idea of teamwork. His best friend and next door neighbor, Marco excels in the classroom. While Isaac has won MVP basketball trophies, Marco has trophies for spelling bee champion, Principal’s Honor Roll, Top Reader, Times Tables Titan—what he refers to as “all geek awards, nothing my dad can brag about” (14).

Marco’s dad would prefer a more athletic child and Isaac’s mom would prefer a more responsible son, one unlike his father who has turned to alcohol to balm his pain. However, Isaac wonders whether having a liquored-up Apá around is better than not having him around at all.

Now that they’re in middle school, both boys vow to make things different. Isaac, who struggles academically, promises to be more responsible and to get his grades up so his Amá has one less worry. Marco plans to try out for the basketball team. Although he is short and uncoordinated, imagining his dad cheering him on from the bleachers keeps him going—that and the unwavering support from his friends buoy his confidence.

To overcome their struggles, both boys resort to pure grit and determination. They take the negative experiences in their lives and change them into something more positive.

Readers will likely appreciate this story for is analogy to life as similar to a game of basketball—“it pretty much comes down to the hustle we put in. Win or lose, [we] gotta keep shooting the ball” (285).

  • Posted by Donna

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