Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS

If middle school were a race, Joseph Friedman wouldn’t even be in last place—he’d be on the sidelines. With an overactive mind and phobias of everything from hard-boiled eggs to gargoyles, he struggles to understand his classes, let alone his fellow classmates. So he spends most of his time avoiding school bully Charlie Kastner and hiding out in the Resource Room, a safe place for misfit kids like him.

But then, on the first day of seventh grade, two important things happen. First, his Resource Room teacher encourages (i.e., practically forces) him to join the school track team, and second, he meets Heather, a crazy-fast runner who isn’t going to be pushed around by Charlie Kastner or anybody else.

With a new friend and a new team, Joseph finds himself off the sidelines and in the race (quite literally) for the first time. Is he a good runner? Well, no, he’s terrible. But the funny thing about running is, once you’re in the race, anything can happen.


An ABA Indies Introduce and Kids Next Book, Fall 2017 (see more)
An ALA/ALSC Notable Children’s Book 2018
Parents’ Choice Award, Recommended Fiction, 2018 (see more)
2021 Arizona Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee (see more)
Third Place Winner! 2019-2020 South Dakota Prairie Pasque Award (see more)
2019-2020 South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee
2019-2020 Nebraska Golden Sower Award Nominee
2019 Rhode Island Children’s Book Award Nominee
2018-2019 New Hampshire Great Stone Face Book Award Nominee
2018-2019 Maine Student Book Award Nominee


Critic Reviews

“Why aren’t there more tales about the trials and glories of track? Into that gap come two books for young readers revolving around middle-school running teams…their characters share the common struggle of finding strength to reach the finish line when much stands in the way. Asher’s fine descriptions—of feet on the track, of an uphill run, of pushing beyond one’s initial limits—are a call to get off the couch and onto the road.”
—Tom Rinaldi, The New York Times (read more)

“Joseph’s first-person voice is fresh and authentic, and his character arc is immensely satisfying… Joseph’s journey turns out to be an amazing and deeply rewarding transformation. “
Kirkus (read more)

“They come to count on each other as they race for the same goal: doing their personal best.”
—The Horn Book

“An entertaining mix of events, conversations, anxieties, and reflections, Joseph’s first-person narrative engages readers on page one and never lets up. The combination of acute observation and wry humor is disarming, and Joseph isn’t one to shy away from mulling over his own shortcomings. In the end, his big heart outweighs any number of supposed defects and enables him to help others in his family, on his team, and in his wider circle of friends. Justice is sweet when bullies get their comeuppance in this rewarding first novel.”
—Carolyn Phelan, Booklist (read more)

“Asher is honest about the ways in which Joseph’s condition sometimes affects his performance at school, but she’s also attentive to how his sensitivities enable him to experience his environment—the feel of the squishy new track surface, the air rushing past him when he runs, the colors of the woods along the course.”
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Asher gives us a narrator to root for with a unique voice and a strong supporting cast.”
—Dave Shallenberger, Little Shop of Stories (Decatur, GA)

Praise from other authors

“There are times in Sidetracked when you will cheer because a kid has found deep truth. There are times when you will cheer because a kid has found real friendship. There are times when you will cheer because a kid has discovered that in this broken and hard world, he can still grow. But you will gladly cheer loudest when this kid embraces what seems to be a cliche—‘Do your best’—and shows it to be a ringing call to nothing less than Triumph.”
—Gary D. Schmidt, Printz Honor winner and two-time Newbery Honor winner

“For anyone who’s ever struggled to find their place in the socially complex world of middle school, Joseph Friedman is the quirky, awkward protagonist you’ve been waiting for! Heart warming and funny, Sidetracked is the book we all wish we had read in 7th grade. ”
—Gitty Daneshvari, author of School of Fear and The League of Unexceptional Children

“A new girl comes to town—full of skills and secrets—and before he knows it, the school bully is black and blue, and suspended.

Better yet, she enables a boy named Joseph Friedman to run for his life, on the seventh-grade cross country team. Diana Harmon Asher tells an entertaining story about a boy picking his way through the potholes and pitfalls of puberty, with a little help from his friends.”
—Richard Peck, Newbery Medal Winner

“Oh, how you will love this seventh grader! Joseph is a terrific boy who experiences the world differently from most. He notes: “LD stands for ‘learning differences.’ It used to stand for ‘learning disabilities,’ before they decided to make us sound a little less tragic.

But before you take out your tissues for a good cry, know that Sidetracked is marvelously unpredictable. Joseph is bullied, ridden with anxiety, and terrorized by everything from loud noises to dust bunnies. But pressured into joining the middle school’s new cross-country team, he finds…

Just read it! Diana Harmon Asher has written a witty, observant, and sensitive novel for kids, as well as a delight for the adults in their lives. ”
—Susan Isaacs, New York Times Bestselling Author

“I love the relationships between the teammates in this book. And I love the way Asher shows that in running—as in life—winning doesn’t always mean coming in first. It means trying to do just a little bit better each time you step onto the track.”
—Barbara Carroll Roberts,