Christina, whose father came to Texas from Thailand, and her best friend Megan, Iranian-American, decide to try out for cheerleading now that they’re in seventh grade.
The Tryout (written by Christina Soontornvat; art by Joanna Cacao) is based on the author’s own experience, and that’s why this reads so authentically. Occasional racism is part of her everyday existence, unsurprising for a small Texas town, but of more immediate impact to Christina’s life is what this competition means to her friendship. Megan is serious about gymnastics, while Christina more often escapes into books.
The themes here are important: whether it’s ok to want to be popular, how one deals with the pressure of competition, friends having different interests, and being one of the few kids of color at school. There’s a lot here, but it’s all well-woven to keep the audience interested.
The story is easy to read, with straightforward visuals that keep focus on the events. (It’s also important to note the colors, by Amanda Lafrenais, given the symbolism of skin tones.) I found it relatable that Christina tends to imagine herself in a fantasy world to cope with stress, and it makes for entertaining images, but it is sometimes a distraction from the real-life story, which is plenty exciting on its own.
The author’s note at the end provides substantial context on how the story came to be told, how she sees the past now, and what she might have done differently. There are more and more books about navigating middle school, as kids love the graphic novel format to tell these kinds of stories, and this is one of the better ones I’ve read.
(The publisher provided an advance review copy. Review originally posted at Good Comics for Kids.)