READ THIS. IT'S FANTASTIC.
Claire Boucher loves three things: her family's maple syrup farm, math, and figure skating. And something happens to her that so many kids, in their heart of hearts, dream about -- she gets Discovered. A world-class coach originally from Russia is looking for his next star, and suddenly Claire is training at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Facility on full scholarship.
And do her parents say, as she fears they might, "Nope, the commute is outrageous, you'll have no time for homework, and what about chores?" They don't. Not for a moment. They say to both Claire and each other, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we'll make it work if it's what YOU/SHE want(s)." Whereas Claire had been prepared to say, "No thanks, it won't work for our family," and walk away. Do I LOVE the integrity and emotional health of these people or what?
Commitment of course involves sacrifice. Claire soon learns that when you train at this level, you live the sport. Practice times, and the days per week she's expected to show up in Lake Placid, increase. Homework -- including her math project on Fibonacci numbers--is a catch-as-catch-can proposition. And some thing simply change. She's far less available to her best friend. She doesn't have time to just skate on the frozen cow pond anymore. She can't join the school MATHCOUNTS team. She misses many aspects of the maple farm, and misses coaching the tiny beginning skaters she loves. Yet she loves Lake Placid, too, and despite normal nerves and uncertainty, proves that she belongs there. She finds a support system in the way that the other skaters handle studying. She makes wonderful new friends, including cute Luke who shares her enthusiasm for Fibonacci and helps her explore the theory that a skater's approach to a jump is a Golden Spiral.
And she makes the Mean Girls mad. Because she's the best. And Luke likes her. And Coach likes her. And they get Very Mad Indeed.
Claire is just a delightful character, as are her parents, her skating cousin Charlotte, and her friends Tasanee, Luke and Abby at Lake Placid. The skating coach is tough but human. Even the mean girls are more than one-dimensional, as we get to see inside the family problems of one and the family figure skating legacy of another. SPOILERS: And in the end, the one who challenges Claire most directly for top spot is also the one to show the most decency.
Claire learns a lot about whom to trust and that "the kisses of an enemy may be profuse," as Proverbs says. She also learns specific, helpful things about mental challenges that readers can apply to most any pursuit. But the issue that lingers long after the story ends, is this: Just what IS our responsibility to our talent? Though she must struggle and work hard, Claire clearly has what it takes to reach national and perhaps Olympic level. Does this obligate her? She has left a full, rich, and varied life behind to pursue skating with her whole being -- is that what one must do when the talent level is there? Should we be frustrated with people who have abundant talent yet walk away? (I think of so many parents and teachers who bemoan "gifted kids" who won't "apply themselves.") I don't think there are easy answers to these questions, and that makes this story excellent for any kind of discussion group.
And that's not the end of the fun. Tasanee, Claire's good skating friend, loves to read (and finds time for it!). Her genre of choice is popular paranormal YA. If you know that genre, you'll have fun figuring out which titles and authors she's reading.
Enough talk -- If you like excellent contemporary MG, get a copy of Sugar and Ice and, like Tasanee, start reading. :)