Sixth-graders Lev and Mikayla are both wrestlers.
They narrate in their own voices in alternating chapters, often overlapping in time and perspective, allowing readers into their thoughts and concerns, for they are wrestling with middle school friendships and family dynamics as well as on the mat. Mikayla believes that her divorced father spends all his time on her big brothers’ wrestling practices and tournaments. If she joins a team, maybe he will value her more. The prejudice of her brothers’ coach forces her on to a different team, the Gladiators. There she meets Lev, who reluctantly becomes her training partner. Lev is haunted by his failure last year to make the state tournament and is determined to get there this year. Lev is Jewish, and his best friend is a Chinese boy who loves music. Mikayla is a white Christian whose best friend is a biracial brown girl who loves to work with theatrical makeup. Their diversity is treated matter-of-factly, accepted as part of what makes them unique. Although the jargon of wrestling is not always clearly defined, readers will find the action exciting. The characters, both adults and children, are well-developed and likable. Not everything is wrapped up neatly, but there are some twists that will satisfy readers.
Mikayla and Lev are winners. (Fiction. 9-12)