Sunday, June 26, 2022

Coming Up Short, Golden Ticket

Morrison, Laurie. Coming Up Short
June 21st 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoilers in "strengths and weaknesses".**

Bea has two very supportive parents who are glad to have her, since both suffered the loss of spouses before they reconnected after knowing each other while in high school on Gray Island. Her father is the head of the school parent organization and works with Bea a lot to perfect her softball skills, and goes to every game. It seems odd, then, that he is not there to take her and her mother home one night. Bea finds out that her father, who has just set up his own law business, made an error and spent some client money on company expenses when the account was low. He realized the mistake, admitted to it, and immediately made it right, but when another lawyer involved in the case spots his picture on Instagram at the ball game, he makes a big fuss about it and the entire community finds out. In a horrible twist, the other lawyer is the father of Bea's crush, Xander, with whom she is finally starting to connect. While most people are supportive of the family, the impact of this revelation (which is going to cause financial problems for the family as well) sends Bea into a spiral of self-doubt, and this is reflected in her performance on the field. She decides to change the softball summer camp that she is going to attend, and manages to make calls and put the process in motion to get her  parents a refund and attend a camp on Gray Island with her softball idol. She will stay with her Aunt Mary, who doesn't seem to get along too well with her mother. Bea meets several of her  mother's old friends, and is surprised to find Aunt Mary easy to get along with. She understands that coming back to the island is hard for her mother, since that's where she lived with her first husband, and where he supposedly died of cancer. Or did he? She is in close contact with her parents, and can see that her father is struggling. She wants to make things better, so engineers an ice cream social after the last game so that her parents will have to visit the island. Camp goes okay, and Bea learns a lot about getting out of her head. She also gets attention from the coach, who suggests that she might want to try for a scholarship to the fancy private school on the island. Unfortunately Hannah, the daughter of her mother's best friend, is depending on the scholarship, since she is dealing with her father living far away and her mother's business having problems. For a while, she and Bea are friendly, but the two fall out right before the social. Will Bea figure out how she should go forward with her new reality, and will she be able to find a balance in her life that supports her mental well being?
Strengths: I am always looking for more realistic fiction with girls playing sports, and softball is always popular. It was fun that we returned to the Gray Island setting up Up For Air, and the brief information about the business situation involving The Creamery was oddly compelling. The softball summer camp was a lot of fun, and there were even some tips for players. Aunt Mary was a supportive character who is a teacher in the local high school, so she was well versed on all the current ways of talking to young people when they have problems, so she helped Bea more than her parents were able to. The father's business downfall was realistically portrayed; when I was in middle school, one of my friend's fathers actually spent time in jail for business fraud, so white collar crime does happen, and does have effects on families. Bea's desire to help her parents cope, and to make them proud, is not unusual. The friend drama with Hannah will make this appealing to readers, and Morrison does a top rate middle school romance, although we don't see nearly enough of Xander!

**Stop reading if you don't want the spoiler.**
Weaknesses: I am diametrically opposed to the way that Bea treated her mother, so I will try to be measured in this opposition. Her mother's past life is none of Bea's business. If the only way her mother can cope with the suicide of her first husband is to tell Bea he died of cancer and to never return to Gray Island, everyone should let her do it. I don't understand the current trend to further traumatize people who have lost a loved one to suicide by making them talk about it, or, better yet, making them listen to ways one can "prevent suicide". Should Bea get counseling to deal with her parents' reversal of fortune? Of course. That's what good parents do. Does Bea's mother need counseling? No. She sounds like she is doing fairly well, and people should just leave her alone. 
What I really think: While I would like to see more softball books that have characters who are having a little more fun, this had enough softball to make it worth purchasing. Morrison has a style similar to Jenn Bishop's (Things You Can't Say, The Distance to Home), and is a great choice for upper middle grade readers. I can appreciate that the Gen Z and Millenials have a different approach to mental health than my Gen X view of "suck it up and tough it out and be the best you can" (John Mellencamp, Minutes to Memories) one, but I'm not sure that they are any happier or able to cope than my generation. 

Egan, Kate. Golden Ticket.
June 21st 2022 by Feiwel Friends 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aisling “Ash” McNulty, whose parents are from Ireland and work hard at the restaurant they own, has been in the Gifted and Talented program at her elementary school since she was in first grade. Now that she is in fifth grade, she is struggling with assignments, like the essay she had to do on Orwell's Animal Farm. She's hiding her grade card from her parents, and planning to win the Quiz Bowl the way she did in 4th grade. She feels that this will help keep her in the gifted program, even though she doesn't feel she should still be there. New girl Tilly isn't a fan of the program, and doesn't understand why some students get more resources just because they excel academically. When Ash resorts to underhanded tactics to win the Quiz Bowl, Tillie catches her, and due to this as well as other circumstances, Ash is "demoted" to the regular class where she struggles to make sense of who she is if she is no longer "gifted". 
Strengths: As someone whose children attended a gifted magnet school, I can relate to much of the social commentary in this book. I always felt that my "gifted" children would do fine no matter where they were placed, and that maybe the extra resources should be used to bring other children up to grade level. Ash's anxiety over her situation in on trend, and this is a great fifth grade school novel to read along with Shovan's The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt, Finnegan's Susie B. Won't Back Down, or McGovern's Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
Weaknesses: A bit too young for my students. The gifted and talented program works much differently at my school.

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