Finding an ownvoices figure skating middle grade novel felt like winning the lottery. I didn’t realize how much I needed a story like this until I began and it all clicked. If you love the idea of Asian representation, a middle grade story about friendship, and figure skating, keep reading this book review!
Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however–she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?
Set in Lake Placid, New York, this is a spunky yet stirring middle-grade story that examines racism, female rivalry and friendship, and the enduring and universal necessity of love and support.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: racism, ethnic slur
I have always believed figure skaters should be superheroes. How they can glide on top of ice, have the bravery to launch themselves into the air. The Comeback was an incredibly emotional story for me as a Chinese-American. Both Maxine and I grew up in mostly white neighborhoods and while the racism she encountered is worse than I did, my heart went out to her. The ways we are supposed to shrug off the jokes. That silent moment after the joke where amidst the laughter, we pause.
So many experiences within the book (like double eyelid tape) could have been taken straight out of my childhood. The ways that people assume you’re good at math? All of it. The Comeback was a charming story about skating and friendship. While also being a story about a person’s comeback. About finding the right retort. It is tempting to want to lash out, to make them feel the sting of our words. But what we each have to learn is that feeling is temporary. That to concentrate on ourselves, our success and dreams, is the ultimate comeback.
I was immediately drawn to how passionate and determined Maxine was. To how she can turn the doubts, the things people say, and her fear into power and grace. Her entire family was precious as her parents work extra shifts to pay for her skating lessons, their traditions and inside jokes. I also appreciate how committed The Comeback was to showcasing how to find friends in unlikely places. About learning to see beyond what is easy, what we expect.
It’s hard to remember that cruelty can be born out of ignorance and pain. How they can try to tear us down because of their own insecurities. But The Comeback is about launching our own comeback. How fighting for ourselves and our dreams can take a different avenue than those of our bullies. To have the strength and power to chase our own bests, to push past our own limitations.