Matt Wallace. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06300-798-7
Channeling preteen drama into the larger-than-life sensibility of lucha libre, Wallace, making his middle grade debut, tells the heartfelt story of MJ Medina, a Mexican American 12-year-old struggling to recover from her father’s sudden death. After the racist white girls on her gymnastics team reject her, MJ finds solace training as the youngest wrestler at Mr. Arellano’s Victory Academy. Soon, she’s stealing the spotlight and helping Mr. Arellano find closure following the death of his 15-year-old wrestler grandson, known as Lightning Boy. Donning his mask and performing as Lightning Girl, MJ lives up to her persona in and out of the ring, going up against a villainous state athletic inspector intent on sabotaging the academy. Like a good lucha antagonist, the inspector all but twirls a mustache; though more about his grudge comes to light, the melding of grandiose plot twists and character-driven realism can feel uneven at times. Nevertheless, the novel makes a convincing and celebratory case for wrestling as catharsis. Ages 8–12. Agent: DongWon Song, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Jan.)
Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly categorized the book as #OwnVoices.
Reviewed on: 11/19/2020