Allie, First at Last by Angela Cervantes
Released March 29, 2016.
Allie has never won anything in her life. Her entire family though has a shelf of trophies. Her older sister is a national debate champion. Her brother is a star soccer player. Even her little sister is a rising star as an actress. Allie is almost certain she is going to win the science fair, but it ends up a disaster instead of a win. That’s thanks to “help” from Victor, a new boy at school. When another opportunity to win an award comes up, Allie knows that she has to try hard. She decides to do a photo essay on her great-grandfather who is a decorated World War II veteran. But her ex-best friend who won at the science fair has also decided to use Allie’s grandfather as the subject of her entry. When is it going to be Allie’s turn to shine?
This is a very accessible book, written with a light hand and a friendly tone. That lightness allows this book to deal with deeper truths without getting caught up in darkness. It is a book that speaks to the importance of doing well, healthy competitiveness and the pleasure of a job well done. It also looks deeply at how that healthy competition can twist and become something that is no longer positive in one’s life. Allie’s entire family tries to teach her this in different ways, some by being more competitive and others speaking to her intrinsic worth whether she has trophies or not.
While Allie was a great protagonist, two secondary characters really stand out in this book. First is Victor, a boy who is from a poor family and someone that Allie assumes is being tutored. It turns out that Victor is incredibly smart and is doing the tutoring. Victor though is less concerned with acclaim than with his future. Allie’s great-grandfather is another amazing character. He offers sage advice and a point of view that is particularly filled with grace and compassion. The fact that almost all of the characters in the novel are Hispanic and offer a wide array of points of view about life makes this book all the more winning.
A charming story with strong characters and a clear message that winning is not everything. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.