An 11-year-old wrestling fanatic transforms from scrawny to brawny in this series-launching debut.
Despite his small frame, Ollie has wrestling in his blood. Though she now works as a referee, his mother reigned as the local scene’s undisputed champion until the dastardly Werewrestler stole an underhanded victory. Ever since, Slamdown Town Arena has struggled to stay afloat—and Ollie can relate. When he isn’t daydreaming the sixth grade away, he’s either grappling with big brother Hollis or struggling to keep pace with Tamiko, his brainiac best friend (Japanese American, she’s the book’s only significant person of color). Everything changes when Ollie discovers a piece of magic gum that turns him into a towering, muscle-bound contender. Eager to vanquish the Werewrestler, Ollie enters the ring as “Big Chew.” His episodic matches pair with studying online instructional videos that explain the importance of captivating costumes, titillating trash talk, and sensational signature moves. Despite its larger-than-life personalities, this third-person narrative lacks compelling character: Attempts to lay the verbal smackdown fall flat (“moody music”?), and action sequences seem somewhat illogical (a leg drop into a bear hug?). Ollie earns a title shot, but along the way, his career takes its toll: His grades slip, he loses his dog-walking job, his friendship with Tamiko collapses, and Slamdown Town faces financial ruin. Can Ollie save the squared circle and repair his personal life without breaking kayfabe?
Not a curtain-jerker—but more a formulaic midcard than a marquee match. (Fiction. 8-12)