Two words for you:  Middle School.  There’s a lot going on in middle school.  These are those turbulent bridge years  filled with insecurity and peer pressure when childhood friendships start tearing apart and you’re trying to understand who you are as an individual at the same time you’re wanting so desperately to belong and fit in. 

Told in alternating points of view, this is a white water rafting ride through the eyes of two champion kids who are dealing with  some real-life struggles, some happening unseen inside of them and some in the glaring spotlight of life in the hallways of their school.   These are kids who are figuring it out for themselves and showing their real strength as they take themselves to the mats. 

Mickey (given name Mikayla) is the youngest daughter in a family of two big brothers all successful wrestlers.  She lives with her mother and her older brother Cody while her oldest brother, Evan, a state champion wrestler, has chosen to live with their father.   She is following in the Delgado family tradition which means not going to the dances, not being part of the Thriller act in the school talent show with her best friend and instead choosing to win in the Thanksgiving wrestling tournament.

Mickey and her best friend are about to begin wrestling at the middle school level.  But when Mickey goes to join the team her brothers always wrestled for, the coach tells her,  “no girls allowed."  When Mickey finds another team that will allow the girls to wrestle, her best friend says she isn’t coming along this year. 

Lev has wrestled for years.  He has a goal this year and that  is out wrestle and defeat Nick Spence, the guy who beat him on the mats  last year and is using that win to taunt and bully.

Nick Spence:  “Ask your girlfriend,” Spence says.

Lev Sofer:  “At least I’m not afraid to wrestle her.”

Lev is starting to get headaches.  He’s struggling with himself and what he really wants to do and who he really wants to be.  He’s struggling with “being a boy in middle school, always trying to measure up to the other guys who brag about football and lacrosse, who’d rather get the girls to flirt with them than get good grades.”

Turns out Mickey and Lev are going to be wrestling partners.  A boy and a girl facing each other every day on the mat, practicing  holds, wearing the team-issued singlet,  dealing with the teasing at school from Nick and some of their own teammates. 

What do you do when you’re a girl and the best team for you is all boys and won’t let you join?  What do you do when your father doesn’t see you through the same lens he uses to see his two sons?  What do you do when your best friend changes?  What do you do when you’ve always thought the most important thing in life was to win a state championship?

What do you do when something inside of you changes and the things you thought were important to you, the things you thought defined you and gave you your identity, don’t matter to you anymore?

Wrestling on the inside. Wrestling on the outside.  Every middle schooler will recognize the matches these kids are facing inside of themselves whether it’s about family expectations, friendships changing, other kids making fun of them and the confusion about what is really important to you and figuring out where the big wins really happen.

This book is perfect for middle schoolers and those 5th graders who are already finding themselves navigating these waters.  These are real people with familiar feelings and battles and it’s great to come along and listen as though we are the best friends hearing the story day by day, getting to see how it feels and what they do to handle the challenges. 

Two strong characters navigating some important and familiar pathways make this a book that 5th graders and middle schoolers will look for on the shelves.

272 pages    978-0553521412   Ages  10-13

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com


Discover what happens when one girl wants to break barriers in a sport dominated by boys in this exciting and thoughtful novel by the author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary.

Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it's inevitable. It's also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people are objecting to having to having a girl on the team. But that's not stopping Mikayla. She's determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He's used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he's paired with a new partner--a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win

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