Finding your identity is easier said than done. You can try a variety of clothes, hobbies, sports, etc. and still be unclear on who you are and where you fit in. In the end you may find your place but you may also realize that it doesn’t matter where you stand, as long as you stay you. Newbery Honoree Christina Soontornvat relates her troubles with identity in her new book The Tryout. Partnering with illustrator Joanna Cacao, Soontornvat narrates her journey to become a middle school cheerleader and finding where she fits within her group of peers.
Christina and Megan have been best friends since grammar school. The duo had spent countless hours swapping secrets, playing with dolls, and chatting on the phone. But as they enter the seventh grade, Christina fears that their friendship will never be the same. Not only that, Christina has been feeling out of place. She needs to find something that will guarantee her a place within her middle school population, so why not the cheerleading squad? They are popular, adored, and amazing at performing different tricks and keeping the audience pumped. So when tryouts begin for new students, Christina and Megan jump at the chance. But will joining the squad change their middle school status and still keep their friendship intact?
The creative partnership of Christina Soontornvat and Joanna Cacao is a success in this coming of age story. Soontornvat does not hold anything back in her narration. There are scenes of stereotyping and racist comments witnessed by Christina and Megan. Moments of distress and anxiety are shown, with characters’ letting their emotions come out through actions or words. But after these scenes of distress, instead of letting hateful words keep her down, Christina is able to fight back in her own way. Readers will appreciate her devotion to her faith and identity, as well. Joanna Cacao includes scenes of pray within Christina’s Thai temple and her Presbyterian church, with Soontornvat’s explanation on Thai culture and comparisons between the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha. Cacao’s illustrations also include a diverse community being able to thrive within a mostly Caucasian town. Cheerleading stunts and tricks are shown from panel to panel, allowing the action to flow without interruptions.
Public and school libraries (especially those who have students in grades 4-8) need to have The Tryout on their shelves. It’s a great choice for any young reader who enjoys being on the pep squad or is on the path of trying to find their place in middle school. Place it right next to other coming of age comics, such as Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Kayla Miller’s Click and Kathryn Ormsbee’s Growing Pangs.
By Christina Soontornvat
Art by Joanna Cacao
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Thai-American, , Character Representation: Thai-American, Buddhist ,