★★★★★ All Roads Lead to Lawrence by Craig Leener is the follow-up to 2017’s This Was Never About Basketball, in which a young athlete named Zeke learns that he is the only thing stopping an interdimensional entity known as the 7th Dimension from wiping basketball out of existence. Now that he has finished high school, Zeke is struggling to find a balance between the sport he loves and the people who make his life special, including his girlfriend, Rebecca, and fellow teammates Curtis and Stretch. To make matters worse, one day Zeke receives terrible news that changes the lives of his family forever—but just when things are at their worst, Zeke’s friend Lawrence lets him know that they might be able to do something about it if they hurry. What follows is a humorous, heart-wrenching race to win back the one prize that matters most to Zeke—if he doesn’t run out of time first.
All Roads Lead to Lawrence is an intricate blend of several seemingly dissimilar ingredients that end up forming a fantastic novel. On the one hand, you have a rather straightforward sports story about an avid basketball player trying to navigate a crucial juncture in his young life. Leener’s expertise on the subject here works wonders in giving his characters and the central conflict some considerable weight. At the same time, though, the author crafts a very thoughtful arc about grief and loss, which can often—and understandably so—overwhelm teenagers completely. With confident, empathetic character development, Leener guides his protagonist through a gauntlet of increasingly gonzo predicaments, including encounters with a psychic dolphin and the ghost of an 18th-century Welsh rugby player. By the end of it, Zeke emerges a mature young man with a much greater sense of self, which is exactly the sort of stakes-raising storytelling you would expect from an entertaining sequel.