Matt Wallace’s middle grade debut is a fast-paced dynamic story of 12-year old MJ who dreams of becoming a lucha libre – or wrestler. This unconventional sport has been shared & loved with MJ’s dad, Papi, who is now no longer in MJ and her mom’s life. Hiding the truth from herself (& readers), MJ goes to great lengths to avoid seeing her dad. MJ’s poor treatment by her former gymnastic teammates has alienated her as well as the struggling to make sense of middle school dynamics. Finding an outlet for her joy, friendship and a chance of being in the ring wrestling to “storytell”, her next door neighbor, Mr. Arellano, has offered her a chance to train at his wrestling academy. I was totally enthralled by the deep character development and uber-realistic scenes Wallace has painted with respect to MJ’s relationship with her now-single parent Mom as well as the wrestling basics & behind-the-scene techniques. The secondary plot of a cruel and vengeful athletic commissioner who wants to shut down Mr. Arellano’s academy leads to a hair-raising climax where MJ needs to save the day. Girls who enjoy sports that may not be typically portrayed in MG literature will shout for joy with MJ’s perseverance, her can-do attitude, as well as her vulnerabilities. This novel rings as true as the bell at the end of a match – A WINNER!
(Contemporary Novel, ages 8+) - Reviewed by Maureen