by E.L. Shen
Publication: January 19, 2021
Maxine is a 12-year-old figure skater with dreams to one day be an Olympian, so she’s working hard on the ice to perfect her routine while trying to finish homework and attend ballet classes. When a bully at school starts to pick on her because of her Chinese heritage, it negatively affects Maxine. Rather than be able to find solace on the ice, Maxine has to face a talented new competitor who may affect her chances of making it through to the next competition.
Racism is difficult to deal with no matter how what age someone is. Shen’s depiction of racism feels true to life, showcasing how Maxine internalizes it and ultimately tries to deal with it on her own. While the latter may seem like a solution, sometimes love and support from the people who care about us are the best remedies.
I wasn’t great at sports, and I didn’t watch it very much either, but I always made an exception to pay attention to figure skating. It was one of the few sports where Asian faces were televised. Like Maxine, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan were two Asian American figure skaters I admired. Both are just two of the many Asian figure skaters Shen name drops throughout the novel, helping to capture how these specific individuals served as Maxine’s role models. It highlights the importance of representation and the positive effects of seeing faces like your own reflected in things you enjoy. Is descriptive representation important? Yes!
It also doesn’t matter how old you are when you see representation in books you enjoy, especially when you never saw it growing up. I was excited to see a reference to Tiger Balm! Can you believe it?! It does solve everything! I see that now as an adult, although I would have been self-conscious about using it as a kid. What a throwback to a classic also! Although I’m not Chinese, Teresa Teng’s “The Moon Represents My Heart” was a song I grew up with. (Enjoy it with the English translation below. It’s so beautiful and relaxing). I was so excited to see both of these referenced here.
Overall, The Comeback is a thoughtful novel about a young Chinese American figure skater’s experience with racism at school and how internalizing those racist acts affects her mentally and spills over into her life at home and on the skating rink. I found the story well-written and appreciated the Asian American representation. Maxine has the potential to serve as a character that other Asian American girls can identify with, serving as a role model just as Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan served as her role models.
**A big thank you to the publisher for also providing a finished copy of the book. I purchased a copy for my niece, so I hope she’ll like it as much as I did, although she probably won’t be as familiar with tiger balm or Teresa Teng–I must remedy this. HA…