Aug 10, 11
Read from August 07 to 09, 2011
Claire is a 7th grader who lives in a small town on the U.S./Canada border, who seems more than usually responsible and kind, with her willingness to work hard on her family's farm, play Indiana Jones games with her younger brothers, and coach young skaters on the weekends. When she is selected to skate the Maple Show Princess solo at the town's festival, she doesn't know that a Olympic Gold-winning scout, Andrei Groshev, will be in the audience. He is impressed by her talent and offers her a scholarship to study with him in Lake Placid.
From here, the story is pretty predictable. How will Claire deal with the new high-pressure, competitive situation in which she finds herself? How will her friends at home feel about her new inability to go out for Milkshake Nights? How will Groshev's stable of ambitious young skating prodigies deal with the arrival of a talented newcomer in their midst? What will Claire think of the one young man who is training with her in Lake Placid? Chances are, if you have read a sports-related fish-out-of-water novel before, you might have a good idea of what the answers to these questions will be.
What pulls "Sugar and Ice" out of the pack, for me, is the lovely detailing of the setting, the well-drawn Claire's relatability and likability, and the way it immerses the reader in the world of figure skating. The latter might simply be an individual quirk on my part (considering that I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I have watched "The Cutting Edge"). But it is nice to see a girl-focused sports novel that does not focus on the girl trying to break into the ranks of a traditionally male sport, but instead deals with the dynamics of how girls treat girls within a mostly female world. Messner mentions in her note that she was trying to write "Mean Girls on ice," but there is a good balance of personalities in the Lake Placid skating rink -- Claire is hassled by one group of "Ice Queens," but also makes new friends. Development of secondary characters is not a central focus of the novel; each non-protagonist has one defining trait. However, Claire's well-roundedness helped to minimize the annoyance I usually feel at the lack of attention to other characters.
Of course, as the novel progresses, Claire learns about herself (with the help of a sports psychologist) and gains maturity and confidence. She also gains insight into what causes the Ice Queens to subject her to bullying. There are some pretty heavy-handed clues about which Ice Queen has resorted to vandalism and psychological games in her quest to intimidate Claire, but Claire does not figure that out until the end, just in time for a big novel-ending showdown. I bought Claire's growing understanding of how dreams shape people's choices, and what exactly her dreams entail, and by the end was satisfied with the choices she makes about how to fulfill her dreams.
Overall, "Sugar and Ice" is good fun and its predictability gives it an old-fashioned, comfortable feel -- a first read almost feels like a re-read. Plus, I learned something about beekeeping and Fibonacci numbers -- a nice side benefit :)