Review Detail

Kids Fiction 883
Fantastic Wrestling Book
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Mikayle has wrestled in a rec league for many years, always with her friend Kenna. They hold their own, and don't let anyone give them grief because they are female in a sport where most of the participants are male. When they start middle school, Mikayla is really excited to be on the travel team her brothers were on, the Eagles. When she and Kenna go to the first meeting, however , Coach Spence says that girls are not allowed, and he's on the local board, so there's no way they can even appeal. This is enough to encourage Kenna to pursue other interests, much to Mikayla's dismay. She decides to see if another travel team, the Gladiators, will take her. Luckily, Coach Billy is much more open minded, and tells his athletes that they are not to go easy on "Mickey" (as she likes to be called when she's wrestling) on treat her as anything but a teammate. Mickey is partnered with Lev, who isn't thrilled at the guff his friends give him about working with a girl. Mickey isn't thrilled, either, because she's always worked with Kenna. The two make their peace early on, especially since Mickey's brother Evan, a talented high school wrestler, is dating Lev's sister Dalia, and has always been super nice to Lev. Wrestling is a hard sport, and Mickey tries her best even when other teams refuse to compete against her, and she finds that it's harder to win at traveling wrestling than it was in the rec league. Lev struggles with the time commitment of wrestling, and the fact that he doesn't have time to do anything else. When Evan makes an unsportsmanlike move at a meet, both Mickey and Lev struggle with how to address his actions, and it effects them and their families in very different ways.
Good Points
Lev and Mickey are both dedicated wrestlers with years of practice behind them who are now moving to the next level. Issues particular to wrestling, such as cutting weight and being sportsmanlike, are addressed brilliantly. In contrast to Martino's 2005 Pinned, the idea of cutting weight is highly discouraged, and we see only one wrestler try it, briefly, with unsatisfactory results.

Like Martino's 2011 Perfected by Girls, we also see that there are not yet consistent rules concerning girls involved in the sport, and that the culture is somewhat slow in accepting them. Lev and Mickey are both struggling with this, but they both do a good job at learning to work with each other, and Lev is a great teammate when he needs to stand up for his partner. They even manage to have some fun with it, including a specially decorated "girl" trophy amongst the official ones during a meet. I do think that girls and boys have started working better together in the last 10-15 years, and we need to see this reflected in middle grade literature.

The family issues that both Lev and Mickey face are realistic and important to the story as well. Mickey's parents are divorced and juggling three children's sports schedules, and Evan has chosen to live with their father. Lev's family is very busy, and he feels that they don't get enough time together as a family. There are also issues with friends that come into play in the story and are well done.

There are so few middle grade novels about wrestling-- a smattering of Jake Maddox and Matt Christopher titles, Klass' Wrestling with Honor (1990), Spinelli's There's a Girl in My Hammerlock (1991), Wallace's Wrestling Sturbridge (1996), Flake's Pinned (2012, and this does have a girl wrestler!) and the new Petruck's Boy Bites Bug (2018). I believe the reason there are so few is that the culture of wrestling is one that must be experienced in order to convey convincingly. Shovan's son wrestled, and her experiences with teams clearly show. My own disappointment was that since the Gladiators and Eagles are travel teams and not school teams, there were no girls serving as statisticians. My elder daughter was a wrestling stat and team manager for six years; she was such a part of the team that the boys got her hew own pair of wresting shoes when she graduated. Nonetheless, I am absolutely thrilled to have Takedown to include in my middle school collection.
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