Thursday, May 11, 2023


Matheson, Christie.
May 9, 2023 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Seventh grader Alex loves playing soccer, and is happy with her San Francisco Rec league team even thought they don't have the nice uniforms the other teams do.She and her friends enjoy themselves, and her coach, Jayda, has a positive influence on many aspects of her life. Her mother is a bit unreliable, and since her father walked out when she was younger, Alex ends up caring a lot for her younger sister, Belle. Her mother rarely makes it to her games because she is too caught up with a new boyfriend, Xander, but during one game she does attend, Alex catches the attention of Coach Austin, the founder of San Francisco Select, and before she knows it, her mother has signed her up for the elite travel team. The thought is that better opportunities might lead to college scholarships, which would be helpful since the family can't afford college. Alex is sad to leave the Rec league, but Jayda understands. Playing Select means a lot of sacrifices; they practice at a facility quite a distance from Alex's house, so requires her to leave immediately from school and catch several buses, and she can't watch Belle after school. Her new teammates are not welcoming, especially Apple, who has cutting things to say about Alex's scholarship status on the team. Coach Austin is negative, and his training methods are unpleasant. Alex does make friends with Liv, and the two talk a little about how the team works. The games often involve train rides to outlying towns, and for the first game, Alex has to bring Belle with her because her mother has not come home. This further angers Coach Austin, who plays favorites when it comes to starting lineups and continued play in the games. He wants to win, and tells girls that they won't play in the second half if they don't score in the first. Alex, who is used to Jayda's positive coaching and her philosophy that teammates should work together, pushes back against this style from the beginning. Over the winter, the girls are required to spend $300 and register for futsal training, but Alex knows her mother can't afford it. She does get the cost knocked down to $100, and earns the money by herself. When Coach Austin's coaching methods become even more negative, Alex and her teammates decide that they can no longer stomach his leadership, and approach Jayda to see if she can coach them for their big game. How will Alex be able to balance her desire to better herself through the opportunities Select soccer offers with caring for Belle and enjoying the game?
Strengths: Author Matheson is herself a soccer coach, and her love and knowledge of the game are very evident. There are lots of good details about play on the field as well as the way travel teams are set up. Traveling to the games by public transport was interesting to read about, especially since this is set in the San Francisco area. There is just enough family drama to add another layer of interest, and Belle and Alex's relationship is sweet. Jayda is an awesome coach, and it's good to see that Alex has an adult in her life who supports her. The girl drama is on point as well; Apple's mother is just as unpleasant as Apple is, and I imagine that in elite levels of soccer, the competition is brutal. This is the perfect length, and ends on a happy note. This is a must purchase for middle school and elementary libraries where interest in soccer is strong. 
Weaknesses: As an adult, I wish that there had been more nuance to the story. The Select team has nothing pleasant about it, not even the better snacks! It's such a hassle that I wouldn't have let my children play more than two games. The coach is completely evil, and although he gets his comeuppance, it would have been nice to see some positives in a travel team. I was also very concerned that Alex's mother was so neglectful, and that situation was never resolved to  my satisfaction, although she did break up with Xander. These situations are all true to life, but I wish there had been more depiction of Alex getting help with these difficult circumstances. There are some links to applicable web resources at the end of the book. 
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this (probably two copies!), and this will circulate well. My students will love it, but as a former coach and teacher, I wanted the soccer experience to have a little more appeal before becoming horrible. 

Ms. Yingling

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