Summary: The Comeback by E.L. Shen
E.L. Shen’s The Comeback follows 12-year-old figure skater, Maxine Chen. Maxine loves figure skating and is pretty good at it too. Her parents are extra supportive and make financial sacrifices so that Maxine can pursue her passion. Still, they’re balanced and never pressure her to do anything she doesn’t. They also always ensure that she prioritizes school work and is not too hard on herself.
Maxine is a confident skater and feels sure that she’s got at least third place in the bag during her contest, but things start to get complicated when a new skater named Holly shows up. Holly is better trained and more experienced on the ice and Maxine begins to feel jealousy and other negative emotions. Maxine is also struggling with a bully at school who makes racial jokes about Maxine, such as about her monolid. As she prepares for and competes, Maxine learns a lot about standing up for herself and the value of true friendships.
Maxine is a memorable protagonist with plenty of zest! Although she is quite opinionated and outgoing, I loved reading about her inner world, especially during her practice skating sessions. It’s impressive how much goes into an ice skating performance, and that’s something Shen sheds light on in this book. I also really loved Maxine’s parents. It’s common to read about Asian parents who put a ton of pressure on their kids to be overachievers in school and even in extracurriculars. Maxine’s parents are not like this. They support her passion, but it’s obvious that Maxine’s wellbeing comes first. There are also several heartwarming family scenes in this book.
Another major part of this book is Maxine’s unlikely friendship with Holly. I loved how honestly the author portrays those icky emotions — like jealousy, anxiety, competitiveness — that come with competing. Holly’s approach and feelings about the sport, as well as her parents’ overall attitude create an interesting contrast with Maxine’s circumstances. Finally, this book is heartbreakingly honest about microaggressions, racism, and bullying that can be common in middle school. I also liked the way the school handles the bullying incident and how Maxine’s parents deal with everything.
Overall: The Comeback by E.L. Shen
The Comeback is a fun, insightful middle-grade book about ice skating, friendship, and bullying that is perfect for fans of books about sports. Through Maxine’s experiences, this book highlights some practical ways of handling bullying, as well as ways to be a good sport while participating in competitive sports. If you enjoy books about unlikely friendships and body image issues, you should definitely put this debut middle-grade novel on your TBR.
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I received an eARC of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Read my interview with author E.L. Shen to learn more about why she wrote this book and see her favorite middle-grade and adult books.
Have you read this book or any other middle-grade books about ice skating? Most recently, I loved Jennifer Blecher’s Stick with Me.