Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel

Chen, E.L. The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel
January 19th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maxine Chen lives in Lake Placid, New York, and loves to ice skate. She's fortunate that her school is very near the rink where she trains. Her best friend Victoria doesn't quite understand the commitment it takes to compete in the sport, but the two get along most of the time. While Maxine has lots of Asian American figure skating role models, there are very few people of color in her community, and she is often the recipient of microaggressions. Classmate Alex, on whom Victoria has a crush, takes it even further, whispering or writing out racial slurs. Maxine isn't quite sure what to do about this, but has nightmares about her treatment. She lets this slide because she has more pressing issues with upcoming competitions as well as a new rival-- Hollie, who is homeschooled and is a very formidable foe. Hollie is much better at the dance portion of figure skating; Maxine takes ballet lessons, but dislikes them intensely. As she and Hollie warm up to each other, they become friends and help each other out, even though they still compete against each other. When things come to a breaking point at school with Alex, Maxine realizes that there are times when it is necessary to speak up for herself. 
Strengths: This is on trend with books depicting the experiences of students from different cultural backgrounds and their treatment in school. Maxine sends away from adhesive to try to make double eyelids on herself, thinking she would receive fewer comments about her appearance. She also gets help with her makeup from an older skater who is also Asian. I appreciated that when her teacher finally realized what Alex was doing and saying, punishment was swift, and apologies were made to both Maxine and her family. The details about skating are excellent, and Maxine's relationship with Hollie is realistically tentative. Maxine struggles with some of her school work, and with time management. The story moves quickly, with a good mix of sport and everyday life. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a little more interaction between Maxine and the other girls who skated at her rink, so that we could have gotten a glimpse at how other competitive skaters handled their time. 
What I really think: Fans of Kim's Stand Up, Yumi Chung who want the same level of social concerns mixed with skating instead of stand up comedy will enjoy this look into Maxine's world. This was a well done book, since I have Levy's Cold as Ice, Freitas' Gold Medal Winter, Nall's Breaking the Ice, Messner's Sugar and Ice, Papademetriou's Ice Dreams and the more YA books Ockler's Bittersweet and Morrill's Being Sloane Jacobs that all center around ice skating, I may pass on purchase. In thirty years of teaching, I have only had one competitive ice skater, and I don't even know where students would go skating just for fun.

I grew up in a neighborhood where every winter, skates were traded around and after dinner mothers would drive us to Boardman Park, where there was a very shallow rink. There were also some shallow ponds in farms where my friends lived where we could skate. The first time I skated on a surface that had been Zambonied, it did not go well. 


Ms. Yingling

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