Gravity by Sarah Deming (9780525581031)
Once Gravity found her way to the Cops ‘n Kids gym, a place with no address, she couldn’t stop going. There was a smell the gym of boys and sweat, and it gave her a real reason to hit something and hit it hard. As Gravity got older, she got better at boxing, quickly becoming a young boxer to watch in the circuit. She headed undefeated into meets that could lead her to the Olympics, but her home life was a mess. Her mother was an abusive alcoholic who was best when she was ignoring Gravity and her little brother. Her father had left, returned and then disappeared again. Now Gravity had a way forward, a way to create a future for herself and her brother separate from her mother. All she had to do was win, and she worked hard and wanted it badly. But nothing comes easily, especially in boxing.
I must admit that I’m not usually a fan of sports novels, but Deming’s novel of Gravity and her battles to make it out of poverty and abuse caught me and held me in its sweaty arms. Deming herself has personal knowledge of boxing as a New York City Golden Gloves champion and boxing journalist. She takes that knowledge and allows readers to see beyond the physicality and violence of boxing into the art and skill of the sport. Her writing is fast paced and the bouts themselves are readable, understandable, and sometimes bloody.
Gravity is a fantastic heroine, someone who is resilient and strong both in her heart and her body. She is confident but not overly so, someone that readers will relate to and understand deeply as she is shown so clearly and vividly in this novel. Gravity is also someone who loves deeply, including family and her coach. This novel doesn’t shrink away from sex either, nicely never shaming the participants either.
A gripping, feminist sports novel that will grab readers and not let them go. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
Mike by Andrew Norriss (9781338285369)
Floyd is a tennis star, destined to become one of the great British tennis players. At age thirteen though, something changes. He starts to see “Mike” a person whom only he can see. Mike first appears at tennis matches and gets steadily more involved, even stopping Floyd from playing physically at one point. Floyd’s parents, who are both very much supportive of his tennis, take him to a sports injury clinic where he is placed in therapy. Floyd learns that Mike is a projection of something that Floyd is repressing. To Floyd’s horror though, it seems that Mike won’t let him keep playing tennis and Floyd will need to admit his own deep desire to do something else. But what?
Norriss has created a short and focused novel that is entirely marvelous. He writes with a playful nature that allows readers to really cheer for Floyd as he navigates his own desires and figures out what will actually make him happy. Nicely, Norriss allows the entire story to be told and readers stay with Floyd and Mike for some time, experiencing all of the times that Mike appears in Floyd’s life. By the end, Mike is the hero of the story, or is it Floyd all along!
A great main character gives this teen novel real heart. Floyd is a tennis prodigy, but completely at the mercy of his destiny when we meet him. He isn’t questioning what he really wants to do, whether tennis is still fun, or why he works so very hard to be the best. The pace of his training is beautifully offset by the slow pace of Floyd’s therapy and navigating life afterwards. Still, that rich sense of humor keeps the book moving and the unique perspective of who Mike really is offers a refreshing take on life.
A fresh sports novel filled with fish, invisible friends, and frankness. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC provided by David Fickling Books.
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (9780544790858)
Carter’s family is a bit of a mess. On their first day of school, there are lunches to pack, socks to find, ribbons to tie, and dog vomit to clean up. So when an English butler appears on the doorstep just as Carter is heading out to buy milk, it solves a lot of immediate problems. Still, there are other issues that Carter is still grappling with, including grief and loss. As the story continues, readers learn more about the darkness in Carter’s family and his role as the oldest to be strong for everyone. As Carter matches wits with the butler who seeks to control all of Carter’s free time, the two become a team and along the way start a cricket league at Carter’s new school. As the past becomes too much for Carter to bear alone, he learns about the power of sports, teams and a good butler.
Schmidt takes the spirit of Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins and gives us a male version in Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick. The book demands a certain amount of setting aside of disbelief for things like cricket being embraced by an entire middle school and a twelve-year-old driving a car. It is mix of lighthearted storytelling and deeper subjects, moving from eliciting laughter into moments of real tragedy with skill. Readers may not fully understand cricket by the end, but will know what a sticky wicket actually is and how the basics work.
Carter is a protagonist who is dealing with a lot. As the book progresses, he learns how vital he is for his little sisters and how his interacting in their lives is powerful. He steadily builds confidence as the story continues with the final scenes fully demonstrating not only his person growth but also the depth of his struggles. As the tragedies of his family are revealed, readers will be amazed that Carter continues on as he does despite it all. He is a figure of resilience and humor.
Another winner from a master storyteller, this novel for middle graders introduces cricket and one amazing butler. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Clarion Books.
Mina vs. the Monsoon by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta (9781949528985)
Mina loves to play soccer outside in the sunshine. But it’s now monsoon season and that means a lot of days filled with rain. Her mother won’t let her play soccer in the rain since she might catch a cold. But Mina knows that her mother doesn’t understand the joy of playing soccer or scoring a goal. Mina tries a series of things to drive the rain away, but none of them work. When the milk man explains to her why the rain is so important for the rice crops and mango fruit, she still isn’t convinced. Finally, Mina discovers something new about her mother that just might change everything, even the pouring rain.
A strong book about the importance of girls playing sports, this book has an afterword that speaks to the work of local organizations in India combating child marriage by organizing girls’ soccer games. Those games keep the girls in school, offer them a sense of accomplishment and give them a model for different roles for women and girls in society. The writing is kept simple and is filled with words in Urdu and Hindi that are defined in a glossary at the end of the book that also offers pronunciation guidance. They are used cleverly in context so that readers will immediately understand them as well.
The art in this picture book is vibrant despite the rain. It offers a look at life in rural India, the vibrancy of the textiles, and the connection to nature. It also clearly depicts Mina’s love for her mother even when they don’t agree.
A powerful look at sports and girls in an interesting part of our world. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Yali Books.
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9781481476843)
The childhood of Venus and Serena is told in this picture book biography. As the youngest of the Williams children, they started playing tennis alongside their older sisters. Then they became the two who continued on. Growing up in Compton made their practices more challenging, including sometimes having to stay down when guns were fired in the neighborhood. The two remained dedicated to their sport, quickly climbing the ranks and becoming ranked players. Trained from a young age to ignore the taunts from the crowd, the two of them became two of the best players of all time, both in doubles and singles. There has been drama when the two sisters had to play one another in tournaments and still they showed a joy in one another’s accomplishments even when they were the loser.
A look at two girls who shared their father’s dreams for them, putting in the hard work, showing resilience and silencing critics. The book focuses on Venus and Serena themselves and also on the way that they have supported one another through wins and losses, staying close and being true sisters. The illustrations are exceptional works of collage that have strong colors and graphic elements that pop on the page. Small touches add interesting details, like the girls’ socks being made from paper with words and lines.
Beautiful, strong and inspiring, this look at two modern legends is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)
The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)
Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)
This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)
Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)
Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)
Patina by Jason Reynolds (9781481450188, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
This book follows Ghost in Reynolds’ popular and amazing Track series. In this book, the focus is on Patty, another member of the newbie group on the track team. Ghost is still in the book, shown as a member of the team and the book begins where Ghost’s story left off. Patty lives with her godparents and her little sister, since her mother lost her legs to diabetes and can’t take care of them. They still see their mother on Sundays for church and Patty has to follow certain rules about the way she dresses and what makeup she wears to meet her mother’s expectations. Patty takes care of her little sister, making sure that she does her homework, eats enough, and has her hair braided neatly with 90 red beads. Still, Patty struggles with the changes in her life and moving away from her neighborhood and friends and into a fancier school. It is on the track that she feels most like herself, even as she learns to run relay where she has to learn to trust her teammates entirely.
The first book in the series set a high level of expectation for the second and fans will not be disappointed with this second book. Readers will enjoy getting to know Patty better and her family situation. Patty has a lot of anger inside her, something that she internalizes and struggles with. At the same time, she is strongly caring and loving of her family, trying to hold them all together and do as much as she can. This complexity in a middle grade novel is what makes this series so special.
The focus on teamwork in this second book echoes throughout the novel not just on the track and relay team. As Patty learns to trust her teammates, she also becomes more open to help from others in different settings like her classwork and new friends. Her family is complicated and strong, stepping up when necessary. The theme of legs resonates throughout the book as well, Patty carrying her mother’s legs with her on the track even as her younger sister imagines them touring the world and having adventures.
Every public library should have this series on their shelves. It will run right off the shelves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)
Ghost learned to run fast thanks to running away from his abusive father who is now in jail. Still, Ghost keeps on running to escape the memories of his final night with his father and the truth of his family. When Ghost sees a group of teens running track, he thinks that he can outrun even the fastest of them. He races alongside the track and finds himself invited to join the team. Ghost through can’t afford the gear the other kids are using and also can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble long enough to focus on running at all. When Ghost makes another mistake and steals silver track shoes from a store while he is cutting class, he finds himself with yet another secret to keep bottled up. You can’t keep running away from problems and trouble though and soon they catch up with Ghost.
From the co-author of All American Boys and author of The Boy in the Black Suit comes this first book in a series about teens and the way track and being on a team affects their lives. This is a book that shines with hope throughout, even as Ghost is making the worst of his mistakes, there is still hope there. That hope comes from Ghost’s mother and from his new coach who gives him chances but also clarifies the new expectations that Ghost has to meet. It is that structure that allows readers to hope and root for Ghost as he negotiates his complex life.
This is a book that will be enjoyed by many children, not just those who enjoy sports or track. It will speak to them about transformation in their lives, opportunities that appear, and the hard work it takes to change and to trust. It is a book about friendships that deepen over time driven by becoming a new team together. It is a book about the power of positive adults in a child’s life and the power of belief in that child or teen.
Beautifully written, this is an accessible and powerful book about running towards the life you want. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne (InfoSoup)
Mary Garber was one of the first female sports journalists in the United States. At a time when women were not newspaper reporters, Mary was a sports reporter. Her big break came during World War II when the men were sent to war. After the war, Mary was moved to a news desk but then a year later permanent came back to sports. She was there to witness Jackie Robinson join the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mary herself was barred from the press box and forced to sit with the coaches’ wives rather than the other reporters until her editor complained. Locker rooms were also a challenge. Mary continued writing about sports for more than 50 years, retiring in 2002. Along the way she garnered awards and honors and a reputation for being fair and unbiased.
Macy captures the story of this groundbreaking woman beautifully. The tone is playful and humble with Garber’s quotes often given credit and thanks to others rather than taking praise for herself. At the same time, one understands the courage it took for Mary to continue doing this job in such a male-dominated field. This story is inspirational in the best possible way.
Payne’s illustrations add to the playful feel of the title and the humor. Mary is shown as very petite, dwarfed by those around her. Yet she is clearly the center of attention on the page, her face lit from within by her big eyes and large glasses. Her short hair and can-do attitude mark her uniquely on the page as well.
A great picture book biography to share with children who enjoy sports or writing. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.