CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 14. . . .December 6, 2013
Despite being self-conscious of her “freakish” height, Emma Jackson has her eighth-grade life on track: she’s friends with Hailey, the most popular girl in school; she goes shopping; and she never does anything without her cell phone. When her math teacher, Mr. Marshall, catches her texting in class, her punishment is to volunteer with the girls’ volleyball team. After a few practices, the coach sends Emma on court, against both the teams’ and Emma’s wishes, in order to benefit from her height. The life-shattering detail is that her “good friend” Hailey thinks that sports are gross. Thus, Emma tries to keep her two worlds from colliding… a daunting task that is pretty much impossible in the world of middle school.
When Hailey uncovers Emma’s little secret, not only does school become a social nightmare for Emma, but also consequences escalate as the feud takes new shape on the Internet. While I agree that technology and social media are a large part of a teen’s social experience these days, I find that the way this particular element of cyberbullying is played out in the text feels artificially added to the plotline and that the content is somewhat of a non sequitur within the volleyball context.
The overall pace of the story is quick, and there is a lot of action packed in there, both in terms of on the volleyball court and in the grade eight social world, but the plot is not necessarily logical. Many times I find myself questioning the basis of Emma’s motivation behind wanting to remain friends with Hailey. Even when they were friends, Emma’s internal dialogue reveals that she did not truly like her friend’s mean-spirited personality. However, without this contrived friendship dilemma to drive the conflict forward, the storyline wouldn’t have a pulse.
As a female and an athlete myself, I completely support the idea of girls participating in sports. For this reason, I find that for a book that purports to encourage girls into sport, there was a lack of positive characterization of female strength. Emma suffers her social ostracization, but she never takes control of the situation herself. The resolution of her turmoil is not a result of her personal perseverance or initiative, and thus it is not satisfying. Even the volleyball team’s bonding party only amounts to the girls creating a team cheer, effectively placing them in the typical female typecast role of cheerleaders. Furthermore, many of the supporting characters also feel like blatant stereotypes: the pretty-but-mean girl, the easy-going jock, the over-controlling-and-competitive team captain, and my list could go on…
Overall, I think that this book might appeal to a reader who is highly interested in volleyball, that is, as long as he or she would have a high tolerance level for the over-embellished stereotypical “girl drama” of middle school.
Recommended with reservations.
Dorothea Wilson-Scorgie is a teacher-librarian at a middle school in Victoria, BC. She has recently completed her MA degree in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.