Saturday, September 10, 2022

The Tryout and Key Player

Soontornvat, Christina and Cacao, Joanna (illus.). 
The Tryout: A Graphic Novel 
September 6th 2022 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Christina has struggled a bit being one of the few Asian Americans in her small Texas town of Greenwood in the 1990s. She has a best friend, Megan, who is Iranian American, and isn't afraid to stand up for herself, but is tired of having to deal with bullies like Tobin who make fun of her for no good reason. When she starts seventh grade, she is impressed with how shiny the 8th grade cheerleaders are, and with how confident they seem to be when dealing with other students. When tryouts are announced, both she and Megan go to the clinics and practice a lot. Christina doesn't have the gymnastics background that Megan has, so she's not overly surprised when her best friend wants to team up with someone else for tryouts, but she is very hurt. Life doesn't come to a stand still for tryouts, though; Christina still has to help out at her family's Chinese restaurant, and she learns from her Thai father the racism he faced when he came to the US. Her mother's family has deep roots in Texas, and are very supportive, but Christina still feels that she isn't quite accepted in her community and that being a cheerleader would help change that. Will she and Megan be able to make the squad, and stay friends while trying out?
Strengths: While books about cheerleading don't seem to get checked out much, there are a lot of girls at my school who are interested in trying out for the squad, and I know that this book will speak to them. There have actually been two boys who were cheerleaders in the twenty years I've been at my school, but most of our cheerleaders have been girls. There is something about trying out that does have a weird appeal; I even went to the cheer clinics when I was in middle school, but I don't think I made it as far as tryouts. Based on the author's own experiences, this has a lot of good details about practice, the social standing of cheerleaders, and the friend drama that occurs any time there is an activity in which not everyone ends up being able to participate. Megan and Christina do their best to stay friends, and are good about sticking up for each other and apologizing when they misstep. The casual but persistent racism portrayed in the school is heartbreaking, but it was good that Christina was able to stand her ground, and also good that she did find people with whom she could connect. The illustrations are colorful and show a lot of great facial expressions. Like Christmas's Swim Team: Small Waves, Big Changes  and Farjado's Miss QuincesThe Tryout addresses a lot of important personal and social issues in an accessible way. 
Weaknesses: Tween readers won't care, but I wanted a bit more information about when this took place. Based on the author's age and some of the comments about the Gulf War, this is set sometime in the mid to late 90s, but I couldn't quite pin down the leather loafer fad, since I've been wearing them since the 1970s!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will never have to shelve this, since it will be CONSTANTLY checked out. 

Yang, Kelly. Key Player (Front Desk #4) 
September 6th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When Mia gets a C in gym class because she struggles with playing soccer, especially since she's had to be extra careful not to get hurt when her family didn't have insurance, she is devastated, since her scholarship to a news writing camp depends on her getting all As. She asks her teacher if she can get extra credit, and he agrees that if she can get an interview with players on the women's soccer team who are in town to compete for the World Cup, he will raise her grade. Her mother, who is now teaching math at the high school, is very dedicated to helping her locate the team, and they spend a lot of time trying to hunt down the Chinese players, since Mia finds their stories, and the fact that they look like her, intriguing. Meanwhile, Hank is struggling with another restaurant over the rights to his crunch burger, and he feels he is being taken advantage of, but isn't sure how to get the legal solution he wants without going bankrupt. Jason is trying to convince his father, Mr. Yao, that he should invest in Hank's restaurant that is attached to the Calivista Motel, but when his father spends money to help out, he also wants to micromanage. After a leak in the family's garage, Jason finds his father's journals from when he was in middle and high school, and they paint a very different picture of him. Lupe is on the high school's math team, but their coach is not helpful. Mia's mother steps in, but is told that her English isn't good enough, and the coach actually gets mad that she helped the team prepare for competition on the sly. The Tangs are also looking for a house, but running into a lot of problems; it's hard to find an agent, few things in the area are in their price range, and when they find a house they really like, the neighbors lie to them about the nature of the neighborhood in an attempt to keep them out. Mia's guidance conselour calls her a traitor to the US when she finally snags an interview with the Chinese team, but Mia thinks that he is wrong. She is lucky enough to translate for the team when they are interviewed by CBS, but dealing with the constant racism in 1990s Southern California is wearing. Will she be able to pursue her dreams?
Strengths: It's great to see women in sports portrayed, even if Mia isn't thrilled about playing sports herself. The quotes from the newspapers, and the racist and sexist language of just twenty years ago is important for young readers to understand. I liked that Mia is so passionate about her writing, and so willing to stand up to the constant negativity people throw her way. While we didn't see a lot of the workings of the hotel, we do get a lot of good glimpses into the restaurant, and Hank and Jason play a big part there. Lupe's struggles on the math team, and the dealings with the snobbish private school they face in competition, add another facet to the general atmosphere. I'm sure we will see more books set at the Calavista, and I can't wait to see what house the Tang's end up with. 
Weaknesses: I'm ever so slightly confused about the year this book is set, since Three Keys portray events of 1994, and this clearly covers the World Cup of 1999. 
What I really think: The series has been popular with my students, so I'll definitely purchase it. Front Desk is one of our Battle of the Books choices.  This is starting to have a Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Alice McKinley feel to it, and while I wouldn't mind a few more stories about Mia, I've enjoyed Yang's stand alone titles like New From Here and would rather see more of those. 

I'm glad that Kelly Yang's dreams worked out, but the older I get, the crueller it seems to not tell the young that life will most likely NOT work out for them. Of course, if someone had told me that when I was 12, I would have just laughed and told the person in no uncertain terms that I WOULD grow up to be the best Latin teacher ever no matter what they said. 

I would have been so, so wrong. 
 Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment