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Here is a great debut novel that brings universal themes to a unique and unusual story. The Sweetheart is a coming of age story set in the world of women wrestlers in 1950s Florida.
I found an interesting review on a site titled Pro Wrestling Books, by a professional wrestling journalist, John Lister, who finds the details of the sport spot-on. It’s also worth reading this PW article by Angelina Mirabella on why she wrote in the second person and how it helped her get to know her teenager protagonist.
Readalikes that come to mind are Betsy Carter’s wonderful Swim to Me and Jennifer Niven’s Velva Jean novels. (That’s the same Jennifer Niven currently making a splash with her YA debut, All the Bright Places.) My student bookgroup chose Velva Jean Learns to Drive a few years ago with mixed results, but the readers who loved it really loved it.
In 1953, 17-year-old Leonie Putzkammer looks into her future and sees decades of quiet days just like the current day: waiting on tables, fixing dinner for her widowed father, and listening to the radio. Embarrassingly tall and curvaceous, the teen believes that she will always be the awkward butt of unwanted attention. But after an appearance on Bob Horn’s Bandstand, where she is prompted to turn three audacious handsprings on camera, all Leonie can think of is the magical sound of applause. In the next few months, events move quickly as the protagonist discovers that her big body, Nordic looks, and gymnastic skills can get her the positive attention she craves—in the wrestling ring. As “Gorgeous Gwen Davies,” she can bask in the love of fans and take charge of her own life. But her flirtatious stage persona soon becomes intolerable for the guy in her life. Is the fame worth all she must sacrifice? The story of Gwen Davies is bookended by present-day narration of a woman named Leigh, who receives an invitation for the now passé “Gwen Davies” to attend a wrestling banquet. Leigh’s second-person narration of Leonie/Gwen’s story works fairly well here. Teens will be intrigued by the true athleticism and courage displayed by young Gwen and her opponents, set in a time period when the journey through adolescence was quite different from now.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
Filed under: Weekly Reviews
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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