The Comeback

E. L. Shen’s The Comeback is a heartfelt, #OwnVoices middle-grade debut about a young girl trying to be a champ–in figure skating and in life.

Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is just trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however–she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. With everything she knows on uneven ice, will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

Set in Lake Placid, New York, this is a spunky yet stirring middle-grade story that examines racism, female rivalry and friendship, and the enduring and universal necessity of love and support.

The Comeback, E. L. Shen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Publish Date: January 19, 2021

The first line of the back copy promises me something heartfelt and that’s exactly what I got.

There’s so much to love about Maxine: her work ethic, her aspirations, and her personality.

I loved reading about a girl athlete who knew where she wanted to go and the general cost of her dreams. Maxine is well aware that rink time costs money and that money doesn’t grow on trees. She prioritizes her time on the ice, which was refreshing to see. Too often, I read books about talented kids who don’t work toward their victories. I absolutely loved that Maxine wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way.

Throughout The Comeback, Maxine is bullied for being Chinese. Her bully even goes so far as to use racial slurs. His words and actions lead Maxine into crisis which affects her self-esteem as well as her performance on the ice. But Maxine is lucky to have support at every turn.

She leaves old, problematic friends behind and makes new ones with her competitors and senior skating idols. This was another point that absolutely kept me reading: Maxine makes friends with her competition.

I thought that was a nice healthy way to build relationships in her sport. Too often, we see competition taken out of the field (or off the ice, in this case). I’m glad to see it portrayed in a different way.

There were many scenes that simply broke my heart. One, in particular, involved Maxine purchasing stickers to place on her eyes to give her less Asian-looking eyelids.

This is definitely a book I will be putting aside so that I can read it with my future child.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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Published by J. M. Tuckerman

J M Tuckerman is a New Jersey-based writer, blogger, and podcast talent. Tuckerman holds a BA in Writing Arts, an MA in Writing, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is a proud dog mom, cat mom, archer, wife, and passionate book wyrm.

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