For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family’s farm. But all that changes when Russian skating coach Andrei Groshev offers Claire a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire realizes that her sweet dream come true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want to see her fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow?
Title: Sugar and Ice
Author: Kate Messner
Publication date: December 7, 2010
Claire’s life sounds pretty fun even before she gets offered the opportunity of a lifetime. She lives in rural upstate New York. Her best friend Natalie raises honeybees. She’s a junior coach for the little kids at her skating rink and she gets to skate with Natalie and hang out with her friends.
Claire gets offered an unexpected scholarship to train with a Russian skating coach in Lake Placid through the end of the summer. The scholarship covers all skating costs, but there are still a lot of things to consider: transportation to and from Lake Placid multiple times a week and whether she even wants to take her skating to the next level. After all, she’s never really been interested in competing. Performing is enough for Claire.
As time goes on, Claire still loves skating, but she’s not so sure it’s worth everything she’s missing out at home. She leaves for Lake Placid right after school and returns home after 9pm, she struggles with her jumps, she misses out on things at home and after school, she has to cancel plans with Natalie a lot, and some of the girls at the rink are just plain nasty. The book ends before the next Maple Weekend, but it makes me wonder whether she would have had scheduling conflicts with that too. I know she would hate to miss out on Maple Weekend, her town’s skating show, and her family’s pancake breakfast.
I love watching figure skating on TV, especially in the Olympics, so I hoped I would love this book — and I did! It’s so much fun to read about everything Claire experiences at Lake Placid. It’s a whole different world from her small town. She meets a variety of other skaters, from mean girls to a brother/sister pair to a second best friend. Her new friend Tasanee is a Lake Placid veteran, so she’s able to guide Claire through some of her early insecurities and give her advice about dealing with their coach and tips on which skaters are nice and which are the ones to watch out for. She’s also so nice and she’s very supportive. Claire even gets to stay with Tasanee’s family overnight (and help out in their restaurant!) when her parents aren’t able to work out transportation one weekend. Claire’s fascinated with a math project she works on and one of the other skaters is into it too, even though he doesn’t go to her school.
Sugar and Ice is a pretty good-sized book for middle grade, and there’s a lot packed into it. Most of us are never going to have the opportunity to skate with a well-known coach, but that’s what reading is for. And even though Claire’s opportunity isn’t very common or realistic for most of us, it doesn’t feel forced or unrealistic for Claire. It’s so well-written that I felt like I was experiencing everything with Claire. I worried about her skating, I got mad when someone dumped nail polish in her locker, and I was sad when she kept having to cancel on Natalie. It was nice to read a middle grade book where the thing coming between best friends wasn’t boys or “better,” more popular friends.