Tag Archives: sports

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy


by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Clover City is back in this companion novel to Dumplin’. This time with Willowdean’s new friend Millie Michalchuk at the center, alternating with popular girl Callie Reyes. When Callie’s dance team loses its funding to compete for the national title, they take it out on the local business responsible: Millie’s uncle’s gym. But Callie is the only one recognizable from the security camera footage, so she’s left to work off the charges alone. Over the months as she works alongside Millie at the gym’s front desk, the two unexpectedly become friends, and what comes of it is amazing (though their motivations are not always clear). Millie draws Callie into her circle of friends who are somewhat diverse in both race and sexual orientation, complete with a brief-but-good slumber party conversation about asexuality.

Millie is on her own journey, one that has, at the outset, very little to do with Callie. She has a burgeoning relationship with Malik, which she is forbidden from pursuing because her parents are very strict (at least, she hopes it’s that and not that they’re racist). She is also trying to figure out how to avoid being sent to fat camp yet again and instead do a broadcast journalism program at UT-Austin. Her mother, ever the realist, tries to teach Millie that the world is biased against fat women on TV, especially as news anchors, but that doesn’t deter Millie. In the end, though, she needs Callie’s help and bravery.

The two girls feed off each other’s enthusiasm, confidence, and bravery for each other’s battles. Landing perfectly in the #metoo era, this book sends a powerful message of sisterhood and the importance of getting beyond messages of drama and competitiveness to tackle the real issues, the systemic misogyny that keeps women down. At the end, Millie is fat-shamed again by someone in “the real world” and stands up for herself (with the help of another overweight woman) in a very well-articulated way.

I was thinking of how to describe this book, especially in comparison to Dumplin’, and then I read Murphy’s acknowledgements, at the end of which she sums it up perfectly: “If Dumplin’ was about coming to terms with your own body, Puddin’ is about demanding that the world do the same. I wrote this book for all the fat kids who have waited too damn long for the world to accept them. Stop waiting. The revolution starts with and belongs to you.”

Rebound by Kwame Alexander


by Kwame Alexander
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In this prequel to Crossover, which focused on the relationship between twin 7th grade basketball stars and their basketball superstar dad, Rebound tells the dad’s story of going through similar struggles of growing up. I wanted to like this so hard, because I loved the original book, Crossover. And it’s completely Alexander – very well-written, complex characters and solid story, which can be hard to hit in a novel-in-verse. However, it felt very derivative, both of Crossover (dad dies young, basketball main theme, starting to like girls, dealing with grief, police and black boys) and of As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds, where the main character is sent away to his grandparents’ house for the summer and earns his keep. The repetitive themes, in retrospect, seem to allude to the cycle of health, poverty, and social issues that people of color are likely find themselves in, especially as hit home by Granddaddy who advises Charlie to choose carefully who he wants on his team, and that he can count on his family. The scenes where Charlie really breaks through and grows did not hit me as hard as they did in Crossover, which was disappointing. I did appreciate the ending, which wraps up the dad’s story and brings it back to present day (actually a little beyond – high school graduation) with the twins. I had read Crossover long enough ago that I wasn’t completely sure CJ was who I thought she was, and that was nice to have confirmed for me. I’m not sure which order I would recommend reading these books in, though probably the original publication order makes the most sense.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling


by Dusti Bowling
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Aven Green’s life was easier when she lived in the same town she’d lived in since she was 2 (when she was adopted) and people were used to seeing her in all her armless glory. But now Aven and her family are moving from Kansas to Arizona and she’ll have to make friends all over again, not to mention deal with the stares. But she perseveres, befriending a kid with Tourette’s syndrome and an overweight kid, and even getting the courage to join the soccer team (one sport she can definitely do well). I also liked how she describes how she manages many daily activities (but not in such great detail that it takes over the story), lists the pros and cons about them on her blog, and also refuses to answer more intimate questions (like how she wipes her own butt – so stop thinking about it already).

This was brought up in my book club as a Wonder readalike. Wonder was, well, wonderful when it came out, but now it’s almost trite. I’m always amazed at how well kids take to the story, and how they flock to the library when their teacher is reading it to get more books like it. I keep a mental list of readalikes and I’m definitely adding this one to it! It’s much less sappy than Wonder, and the story is not just about how other people see her, or her struggles in life. In fact, it’s a pretty typical middle grade novel.

Spinning by Tillie Walden


by Tillie Walden
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

Walden’s graphic novel memoir falls solidly in the same camp as Honor Girl and Tomboy (and is about as confusing and as much of a letdown as Honor Girl). From her website, it seems as though Walden is a very gifted cartoonist, but the drawings in Spinning are very simplistic and I had a hard time telling characters apart and following the story. It’s also hard to take a very fluid activity like ice skating and depict it in a static medium like drawing. It was also hard to watch her put so much time and money and effort into skating when she wasn’t really that into it. Much later, when she does actually quit, she wonders why she didn’t do it sooner, and I was left wondering why also. She touches briefly on her secret relationship with her girlfriend, Rae, but doesn’t really come to any grand conclusions about it, or about skating, or about anything really. She depicts being sexually threatened (harassed? assaulted? I’m not entirely sure how to describe what happened) by her SAT tutor, but it doesn’t really fit into the rest of the narrative in a meaningful way. She also touches on her relationship with her twin brother, who thinks that her being gay is wrong, but she also has other mentors who tell her she’s just fine, like her cello teacher, showing how important it is to have adults in your life who fully support you (unlike her dad, who asked if he had done something wrong to make her gay, which was sad). I’m not really 100% sure what the point of this was, other than an outlet for Walden herself and maybe another in the category of “it gets better” reads for LGBTQIA teens, but given that she’s only 20 it seems like a solid debut work. Plus I love ice skating, so it was interesting to get an inside peek at that world (and synchronized skating, too).

Restart by Gordon Korman


by Gordon Korman
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

8th grade football star Chase Ambrose wakes up in the hospital with no memory of why he’s there or even who he is. As he begins to piece things together, he gets the picture: he was a bully and a jerk. Along with his two henchmen/teammates, Aaron and Bear, he terrorized the school. But now with all memory of why he acted that way, he doesn’t really have those impulses anymore. Slowly things start to come back to him – his dad’s encouragement of his football prowess, an enjoyment of the feeling of power, but also the full realization of the effects that his actions have on other people. Chase is suddenly given a chance to start over and to reject that version of himself – the only question is, will he take it, or will he go back to his old ways?

So. I picked this up because of the premise and I was curious to see how Korman pulled it off and resolved things. It definitely builds to a climax and then everything comes together, but, as with the last book I reviewed on here, it just sort of cuts away and comes back in an epilogue of sorts where everything has settled down and you don’t REALLY get to see how the character changes. In Chase’s case, the person he has wronged at the end of the story, a Korean war veteran whose Medal of Honor he stole before the accident, comes to the rescue. There were certain mysteries that I didn’t see coming, and one or two that I saw coming slightly, but in general things came together nicely.

The most intriguing character to me was Chase’s dad. He was a middle school and high school football star and had high hopes for Chase’s older brother, who didn’t turn out to be a football player. It sounds like some backstory with the dad has a lot to do with why Chase turned out the way he did. Maybe his dad pushing him to be more aggressive, to celebrate his athletic achievements (and he is clearly a natural at football), and to focus solely on fulfilling his dad’s own dreams of back-to-back championships at the expense of everything else. Maybe Chase’s bullying is a defensive mechanism for the hurt he felt at his parents’ divorce, and his dad’s attitude about softness never left him any room to explore those feelings and work through it. Even with his own young daughter terrified of her half-brother, he still thinks that Chase caring about and trying to rectify that by playing Barbies with her is “soft.” In Chase’s case, he gets to just start over completely and never has to work through any of that stuff – or at least, not by the time the book ends. He and his dad do have a small heart-to-heart, which I guess will suffice for a middle school book.

I was hoping to do this one for my 4th and 5th grade book club, but there might be too much “middle school” and crushes stuff. Also, the trouble they get in goes way beyond parents and principals to court dates and judges, community service and threats of juvenile detention. I did like the stuff about the war veteran and visiting the elderly, and how Chase was able to make amends with the kid he bullied most severely, Joel (and Joel’s twin sister, Shoshanna). One thing that irked me was that, for all his experience writing for kids, Korman used a few phrases that just hit my ear as WAY too adult. It was also an awesome opportunity to really get into the head of a bully and figure out why they do what they do, and Korman dropped that ball.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen


by Sarah Dessen
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ever since her father died a few years ago and her wild older sister left the house, Macy finds a lot of comfort in her extremely orderly life. She has dinner with her mother every night and has her very rational, non-emotional boyfriend and a summer of covering his job at the library to fill her days. But then she discovers Wish Catering company and their chaotic ways where nothing is orderly and emotions run high. Under their care, Macy learns to stand up for herself and also to embrace chaos as she begins to heal from her father’s death and understand that emotions are good.

I loved Macy’s journey and am still mulling it over. It was a little bit less powerful of a climax than other recent favorite teen love stories, but things did come together nicely and you knew the climax was coming well before it hit. However, she knows how her love interest feels about her rather than realizing it for herself and in general she seems a bit weaker than I like my heroines. I also didn’t get to see how she actually deals with the other hard things in her life that fell apart at the same time as the love life storyline, but instead got a postscript where everything has been neatly resolved, which was a bit disappointing (though teenage me would have found that perfectly fine). But all that aside, it’s a good, fairly tame love story (no feelings about sex, just love), with a nice lesson on control and emotions and healing for good measure.

Returning-to-former-sport like: Ramona Blue
Lessons and love story like: The Future of Us

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Ramona lives in a small vacation town in Mississippi, not far from New Orleans. When she was little, Hurricane Katrina ripped through and destroyed their already-precarious lives, splitting up her parents and sending her, her sister Hattie, and their father into a FEMA trailer. Her mother, who had gotten pregnant with Hattie at 15, gradually dropped out of the picture. When Ramona’s childhood friend Freddie moves back to town, her attraction to him makes her question whether she’s really gay or not. I was sold this one on the issue of bisexual erasure, which is a thing. Curiously, much more is made of Ramona’s questioning her sexuality than her relationship with Freddie, who is black. Although in one particular scene, Ramona and her friends trespass into someone’s backyard to use their pool and Freddie has to spell it out to her that while it seemed like a foolish prank to them, it could have been life and death for him.
Meanwhile, Hattie, who is maybe 20, gets pregnant and Ramona is very torn between needing to help her sister raise the baby and believing she can pursue a future of her own that includes community college on a swimming scholarship. The baby’s father, Tyler, moves into their trailer for a bit before insulting Ramona and getting tossed out by Hattie, but they later make amends. One of the things I really found interesting to ponder was the fact that their family, though barely making ends meet with three working (semi-)adults, had not always been that way, and had once been used to a slightly more comfortable lifestyle before the hurricane took that away, and how hard that must have been. This is not your typical poor girl story.
I found the dynamics of their small southern town interesting. Maybe it’s my Yankee background, but I had a hard time believing that Ramona showing up to prom with a girl, even another (the other) known lesbian in town, went largely ignored. (The school librarian was the hero in that scenario, which I love.) Ramona and Hattie both work at a local restaurant with Ruth (the other lesbian – she and Ramona are not dating) and Ruth’s brother Saul (also gay). I also had a hard time believing that her dating a black guy went even more largely ignored. If my perception of small southern towns is wrong, then great! But things wrapped up pretty neatly in that arena and others in a way that made me a bit suspicious.
There were many subtle themes that I enjoyed, like that Ramona is very tall – too tall for their trailer – and feeling physically and emotionally like she doesn’t fit. Murphy has a knack for not hitting you over the head with her insights, but letting them trickle down gently and be moving when you’re least expecting them.
Reminds me of the movie Kissing Jessica Stein, a bit (mostly in the bisexuality question part).