Middle Grade Review: Playing the Cards You're Dealt (Varian Johnson)
About This Book:
Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he's finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant's friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he'll measure up to his father's expectations at the card table.
Then Ant's best friend gets grounded, and he's forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn't exactly who he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash -- way more than his old partner. Plus, he's not sure that his father wants him playing with a girl. But she's smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley -- and keep his plans a secret.
Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart...
*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*
There is quite a lot of information about Spades, a game about which I know nothing! Johnson gives a nice overview of how the game is played, and there are several games depicted, complete with the trash talk. It was also good to see that Shirley didn't care much for that part of the game, and that Ant realized that his friends' acceptance of trash talk in general wasn't healthy.
The one thing that confused me a little was that the book was narrated by Ant's deceased grandfather, but not in a consistent way. Since Spades is a family interest, and there is so much about the dynamics between Ant and his father, this could have been really interesting if we had more information about the grandfather. I wonder if some parts of his involvement were edited out.
It's always good to see books with characters who have a passion about something, and Ant's passion for Spades is central to this book. To see how he pursues this passion while also having to deal with significant problems in his personal life will appeal to readers of titles like Feinstein's The Prodigy, Sumner's Tune It Out, and Jones' Jayla Jumps In, where children must deal with their families and how they impact their pursuits.
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