cover image That’s Debatable

That’s Debatable

Jen Doll. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-30604-5

High school debate has a lot of rules, and 17-year-old white Millicent “Millie” Chalmers follows every single one, including the unspoken guidelines for girls: smile, don’t yell, never get emotional, and always wear pantyhose. It’s annoying, but, she believes, worth it, especially when winning guarantees college scholarship opportunities. Taggart “Tag” Strong, also white, 17, and an opposing debater in the same Alabama league, won’t argue something he doesn’t believe. Though his principles cost him debate wins and put him at odds with his best friend and debate captain, he refuses to waver. After bonding during an active shooter situation while they’re at a competition, Millie teaches Tag how to stay true to himself and win. But when an aggressive smear campaign threatens Millie’s win-streak, the pair must confront debate’s toxic environment while navigating a budding romance. Though Millie’s and Tag’s characterizations can feel formulaic and the narrative follows a sedate pace, rival schools fighting dirty, overarching feminist themes, and contemplations on sexism and privilege provide intrigue. PW contributor and former high school competitor Doll’s (Unclaimed Baggage) passion for debate is genuine and infectious, and the protagonists’ alternating perspectives make for a persuasive read. Debate terms and customs are explained throughout. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ryan D. Harbage, Fischer-Harbage Agency. (July)