In this debut middle-grade novel, a girl in a military family deals with moving to a new town, her mother’s deployment, making new friends, and competing on a swim team.
Summer Stevenson, 11, is tired of hearing people call her military parents “heroes.” She doesn’t feel so lucky about having to frequently move and make new friends, which doesn’t come easily to her. “Heroes don’t make their kids leave their home,” she thinks. Her arrival in a new town means that she has to field curious questions about her and her younger sister’s mixed-race heritage (Japanese, African-American, and “a bunch of other stuff”). Some people also want to touch their hair, and others call Summer “girlfriend.” But the new town of Valencia, California, also has some good qualities; for example, the family’s garden is full of hummingbirds, which Summer admires for the strength and speed of their flexible wings. Although some neighbor kids aren’t very welcoming, others are friendlier, and Summer is excited to join the neighborhood swim team; her hero is Lia Neal, the real-life mixed-race swimmer whose team won a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Summer is crushed, though, when she learns that her mother will be redeployed, and she’s angry that, once again, she has to be strong. (“I just want to be a kid,” she thinks.) Stamps realistically portrays the challenges of children in military families, many of which also apply to kids who are forced to move because of their parents’ jobs. Her characters are well-drawn and diverse, and her portrait of Summer’s Japanese-American grandmother is particularly charming. Summer’s anger, resentments, and fears are relatable, as are her parents’ well-meant but not always effective attempts to help. Situations common to middle school children add to the picture: sleepovers, mean kids, annoying siblings. Not everything goes right for Summer, and she still misses her mother, but she learns to take pride in her swimming success and her growing strength and flexibility—as well as her mother’s commitment to service.
An entertaining story and a thoughtful consideration of kids in military families.