The Hand You're Dealt
by Paul Volponi
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
2 Out of 5 Stars
Huck Porter is a poker prodigy, having been groomed by his father (much to the chagrin of his mother) from a young age . Every year the local church hosts an annual Texas Hold'em tournament and sends the winner to Las Vegas to play in a high stakes tournament. The standing agreement is that whatever money is won will be split between the winner and the struggling community. Huck's father has been the tournament champion for the last three years and it's only as his father is dying that a new tournament champion is named: Mr. Abbott, the meanest math teacher to ever dust an eraser. When Mr. Abbott stiffs the town by refusing to split his earnings, Huck sees this as an insult against his father who once donated all of his winnings to the town. As a result, Huck decides it's time to humble Mr. Abbott both in the classroom and at the poker table.
While the opening chapter offers a lot of promise (Huck and the other poker players are being robbed at gun point in an elevator), it quickly loses momentum from there. The premise of a small time, small bets poker tournament being used as a means of sustaining an economically depressed community is far fetched and Mr. Abbott is almost cartoonishly evil in his tyranny over the classroom. In addition, Huck is dealing with some pretty heavy conflicts, but they're glossed over and resolved in simplistic ways.
For the target audience, which I assume to be 13-15 year old boys, this is probably a good read (especially for struggling readers) for all the reasons that I didn't like it. While the chapters are short and keep the action moving along, there's not a lot of description or character development, and there are several implausible situations/details that will probably sneak right on past a young reader. While I will certainly recommend the book to my students, it's not something that offers satisfaction to a more sophisticated reading audience.