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“I dare you to predict the winner of The Million Dollar Race. OK, you dragged it out of me: it’s the READER!” —Jerry Spinelli, Newbery Award–winning author of Maniac Magee

Perfect for fans of Lizzy Legend and the Baseball Genius series, this quick-paced, heartfelt, and zany novel follows a speedy kid from an unconventional family who will do whatever it takes to win an international track contest.

Grant Falloon isn’t just good at track; he’s close to breaking the world record 100-meter time for his age group. So when the mega-rich Babblemoney sneaker company announces an international competition to find the fastest kid in the world, he’s desperate to sign up.

But not so fast. Nothing’s ever that easy with the eccentric Falloon family. Turns out, his non-conformist parents never got him a legal birth certificate. He can’t race for the United States, so now if he wants to compete, he may just have to invent his own country.

And even if that plan works, winning gold will mean knocking his best friend—and biggest competitor—Jay, out of the competition. As unexpected hurdles arise, Grant will have to ask not only if winning is possible, but what he’s willing to sacrifice for it.

Chapter 1 1


Once in every lifetime, they say, if everything goes just right—if you eat just the right combination of foods, if you get just the right amount of sleep, if you’ve worked hard and given absolutely everything of yourself—it can happen. You can do it. You can close your hand around the dream you’ve been chasing your whole life.

You can catch the lightning.

It’s not just a myth. I’ve seen it. I watched in 2009 as Usain Bolt set the 100-meter world record—9.58 seconds. Granted, I was only a baby, plopped in front of the TV. But I like to think experiences, even if we don’t remember them, leave little seeds in us.

For years I’ve been nurturing this seed, shaping the weather of my life so that, under the brightest lights, it’ll activate and burst up through the soil.

Today feels like the day.

I, Grant Falloon, am about to make history.

It’s the Penn Relays. Biggest track meet of the year. The bleachers are packed beneath the triangular flags atop Franklin Field. I’m in lane four. I shake my legs. Roll my neck. On the announcer’s cue, I kneel and press my spikes into the blocks.

“Runners on your marks.”

I close my eyes. My mind is a glowing computer screen. One by one I drag the cluttered files into the trash. Everything must go. Thoughts are heavy. I need to be light. I need to be fast. The boys’ record (U-13) is 10.73 seconds.

“Runners set.”

My head drops. My hips lift.

Beep!

I explode out of the blocks, head down.

I drive my legs. Elbows in. Fingers fully extended.

It’s happening. I feel myself pulling ahead. Not only ahead of the pack but also—this is hard to explain—of myself. Reaching top speed, I feel myself edging out of the me-shaped outline I was born into.

Just a half step.

And it’s the best feeling in the world.

I’m feeling so invincible that, twenty meters from the line, I forget the number one rule of sprinting. KEEP. YOUR. EYES. ON. THE. PRIZE.

I peek into the crowd. My family’s in section 102. There’s Mom: fierce, wild-eyed, yelling, “Goooooo!” Dad’s peeking between his fingers like he’s watching a horror movie. Franny’s holding his phone up, filming.

That’s all it takes. A fraction of a second. A glance. And my toe catches. It’s like I’ve tripped on an invisible root. Suddenly I’m stumbling. Flailing. Arms wheeling.

And yet…

I’m so close!

I spill forward, arms extended Superman style. The finish line is flying toward me. All I have to do is wait, and it’s going to cross me.

But then gravity.

My chest hits first. I bounce. My hips crash down. My legs fly up. My chin scrapes along the track one, two, three times.

I skid, arms outstretched.

Reaching desperately.

But no.

No.

I lie facedown on the track, a literal inch from the finish line. It’s eerily silent, probably because all ten thousand people have their hands over their mouths.

I can’t look. If I look, then it’s real. What if I just lie here for a while? What if I just lie here till the stadium empties? Then I can tiptoe home and put a Band-Aid on my bleeding chin, and it’ll be like nothing happened.

Right?

Or, just to be safe, I’ll lie here till school lets out and everyone forgets. I’ll lie here till the birds fly south, till the autumn leaves twirl down on top of me.

I’ll lie here till the whole human race dies out and the grass pushes up through the track and the squirrels build a new civilization in the ruins.
Photo by Andrew Piccone

Matthew Ross Smith is an author, musician, and writing professor from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For more, including animated writing tutorials you can share with your students, visit him at Matthew-Ross-Smith.com.

“I dare you to predict the winner of The Million Dollar Race. OK, you dragged it out of me: it’s the READER! Ready...set...” 

 

– Jerry Spinelli, Newbery Award-Winning Author of Maniac Magee

Two tween runners face off against each other and injustice in this fast-paced read. Grant Falloon and his best friend, Jay Fa’atasi, are sprinters, obsessed with speed and breaking records; the friendly competition between the two encourages each of them to dig deep and run their hardest. When a video of an epic fall goes viral online (thanks to Grant’s social media– obsessed younger brother), a chain of events is set in motion that will change their lives. Runners worldwide are invited to compete in a high-profile, high-stakes race sponsored by a sneaker mogul. Qualifying isn’t easy, and while Grant can provide the quick race times, he must rely on his family to find a creative loophole for him to be able to participate. Grant connects with international runners and factory workers at the sneaker company and comes to realize that what’s at stake is bigger than a $1 million race. Characters are at times over-the-top, but the loping plot crosses the finish line with positive messages about social justice and letting go of our investment in what virtual audiences may think of us. Grant and other main characters are assumed White; Jay and his family are Samoan American. Part classic sports story, part criticism of digital media celebrity obsession, all heart. 

– Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2020

In twin tributes to sports and social conscience presented through a mix of well-lead narrative, texts, and transcribed sound clips, young athletes cleverly subvert an unscrupulous shoe company’s marketing stunt. Thirteen-year-old track star Grant Falloon is thrilled when the Babblemoney Sneaker Company announces a pair of sprints open to a young runner of each sex from each country. Unfortunately, his ex-hippie parents never got him the birth certificate he needs to register, then his best friend and chief rival Jay Fa’atasi wins the right to represent the U.S. But little brother Franny, a seasoned vlogger, has a wild idea: found a personal country online. Grant’s already conflicted feelings rise to a new pitch with the arrival of disturbing evidence of ugly working conditions at Babblemoney’s factories in southeast Asia. The girls’ race gets barely a glance here, but Smith provides white Grant and Samoan Jay with close, loving families and wheels in a flint-hearted corporate CEO of deceptively grandmotherly public mien. Action on and off the track invites cheers from sports fans and budding activists alike.

– Booklist, December 1, 2020

More books from this author: Matthew Ross Smith