Nikki wants to play sharp on the basketball court, explore the truth about her sperm donor father, and keep her social life afloat—but first she must build the confidence to take a shot.
Roberts’ debut novel features an inviting first-person perspective from Nikki, an eighth-grader of only medium height who nevertheless makes the cut for a choice basketball league. To afford the pricey team fee, Nikki agrees to watch energetic younger brother Sam every day so her single mom doesn’t have to pay for after-school care. The author balances passionate play-by-play from the basketball court with reflective Nikki’s efforts to learn about her “Sperm Donor dad.” In between practices, homework, and Sam duty, Nikki finds connection with the stories of classmate Booker and (fictional) WNBA hero Mia McCall, who both have experience within non-normative family structures. Middle school growing pains such as friendship strains, crushes, and confidence building are woven into a believable, nontragic character whose experience is underrepresented in children’s literature. Pacing is so steady among Nikki’s pursuits that it is difficult to pinpoint a clear climax—this may prevent reluctant readers from finishing but will keep invested readers turning pages. Nikki and Booker are both white; their classmates are diverse, indicated mostly with references to skin color, hairstyle, and naming convention.
An optimistic middle-grade novel melding heartfelt realistic fiction and sports fare. (Fiction. 10-14)