Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

An up-front disclaimer: Kate is a friend of mine - the kind of friend I've actually met and talked to, even. I believe my opinion to be unbiased, but hey - you're all entitled to know that I know and like the author before I go raving about how wonderful her book is, yes?

Claire Boucher (booSHAY, thanks, not "butcher") is a seventh-grader with a passion for ice skating who gets swept up into something bigger than she ever imagined after she nails her jumps at the annual Maple Show and wins a scholarship to train in Lake Placid with Andrei Groshev, a former Olympian and renowned trainer. Before she can fully appreciate what is happening, Claire is swept into a far more competitive world of skating than anything she'd experienced before - a world where almost everything revolves around skating.

She makes new friends as well as new foes, and endures the sorts of problems you might expect - juggling homework and family and friends from home with her new obligations, which involve quite a lot of travel and training. Her developing friendship with Luke and Abby (siblings who skate as a pair), and her innocent romance with Luke in particular, were some of my favorite relationships in the book. Claire also makes friends with a girl named Tasanee, and frenemies with another of the girls who trains under Andrei. (I hereby give myself extra smugpoints for sorting out the actual root of all evil from the get-go.)

If I'm being truthful, the part of the book that didn't exactly ring true for me was Claire's love of math - to the point of enjoying special math projects and wanting to be part of the MATHCOUNTS team at her middle school. Not because it's not true to the character, and certainly not because Kate didn't write it in a believable way, but because there's no way in hell I ever wanted to be a mathlete. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Funny, but true: I was also never an athlete, yet that part of the book resonated perfectly well for me. I did music and drama all the way through school, and there are plenty of analogies to be drawn there and from life at large. After all, who among us hasn't gotten pulled into deeper waters than those in which we really intended to swim? And when we find ourselves in those waters, what do we do?

I can assure you that Claire resolves the situation well - and on her own terms. She takes the time to step back and decide what it is that she really wants, and what costs she's willing to pay, and in the end, she finds her own way to happiness.

Man, it's harder to write a spoiler-free review of this book than I thought it might be, so I'll say no more about the plot itself. Instead I'll tell you that it's well-written and engaging and a perfectly wonderful follow-up to The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award. A wonderful present for the holidays for upper elementary and middle-school girls, especially those interested in boys, math, or sports.

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