Friday, July 31, 2020

review - Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron 7.31.2020

Every year the 4th graders at my school discover the book The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish.  All it takes is for one reader to discover it and then it passes quickly from hand to hand.  Suddenly, every 4th grader that comes into my classroom library is asking for the book and we end up with a long hold list.  We're always prepared with multiple copies of that book and our school library has some too.  There's something about the bond of friendship being broken, not by a fight, but the unimaginable, that captures young readers attention.  We try and make childhood a happy time for our kids and students, even when we, as adults, are dealing with things and trying to figure it all out.  By diving into a book that allows kids to feel such deep feelings, it captures readers attention and they want to feel more.  
Of course, many young readers want an escape from reality, and need something else to consume their waking time.  Something they can put new trust in and maybe escape into that new reality for awhile.  Maybe it's a book, or a new storyline.
Well, I have a new book for these readers.

Dan Unmasked
written by Chris Negron
published by Harper

Dan is a comic and baseball-loving kind of guy, and he's managed to put both of those things together.  He plays on a baseball team with his best friend, Nate, who he is so close with, he feels like they have a friendship telepathy going.  Which works real well when Nate is pitching and Dan is playing shortstop, they both know what each other is thinking and give each other a secret sign of touching their nose.  And Dan has everyone excited about the Captain Nexus comic series.  In fact, when a new episode is published, they all get the comic book and get together for a group read.  There are strict rules to follow, but there is a definite camaraderie when everyone is reading the same thing!
But then, the unthinkable happens.
At an indoor practice when doing a drill that requires a lot of concentration, Dan talks to Nate about what will happen next in the comic and Nate is struck in the back of his head with a fast moving ball.  Nate goes unconscious and does not wake up.  Next thing he knows, Dan is visiting Nate in the hospital where he is in a coma, and doesn't know when... if... he'll wake up.
Dan has to go back to his regular life and his baseball team is about ready to start a very important tournament.  How is he supposed to concentrate when his best friend is not on the mound, and he knows it's his fault?
What happens in the rest of the book is a touching side of humanity and surprises.
Dan learns he can trust other people.  His teammates come together and support each other even when they are taken far out of their comfort zone.  Dan has always felt like he was in competition for Nate's attention with Nate's younger brother, Ollie, but now Dan works side by side with Ollie to help bring back Nate.  And Dan's father, who has grown more absent because of a busy work schedule, becomes more available for his son.  
Dan also learns that sometimes the best lessons can come from the pages of a book, or in this case, a comic book.  Dan is confident that the key to waking up his best friend lie in the pages of a book.  Dan, Ollie, and a new friend, create a new storyline using the characters from the Captain Nexus comic, and add Nate into the story.  Dan and his friends think by reading the story to Nate it will help him find a way to wake up from his coma.  But when writing proves to be harder than thought, will the Captain Nexus writer be able to help them in time?

I loved how everything came together.  Between baseball, writing the comic, the relationships between Dan and the friends and his life, and Dan and the adults in his life, and the love of the comic itself, it's amazing how fluid the storyline became.  Kids who are looking for a heartfelt story (like The Ethan I Was Before) will love this one.  I think the way author Chris Negron was able to also include the sports and comic line made it an even stronger story.  This is a must add for 4th grade and up libraries.

More about author Chris Negron:
Chris Negron grew up outside Buffalo, NY, where he spent a huge chunk of his childhood collecting comic books and loving sports. But it was the hours of playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends’ basements that first gave him the dream of one day writing his own stories. That dream kept him company through college at Yale University and years of programming computers for big companies. Dan Unmasked is his debut novel, and he now lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Mary. Visit him at
Find Chris on Instagram or on Twitter

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.

Would you like to win a copy of Dan Unmasked for your library?  Thanks to HarperCollins, you have the opportunity to win a copy!  Enter by August 6th for your change (US addresses only).


  1. This book is new to me. Sounds heartfelt and engaging.

  2. I know a few middle school readers who would want to read this book. Thanks for sharing !

  3. I know a few readers who will connect with this book - thank you for sharing!