Korean-American seventh grader Pippa Park’s is a juggler: living with her older sister and brother-in-law, rather than her Mom, in Korea, she juggles the weight of their expectations; she juggles her responsibilities at home and school, and she juggles schoolwork with her first love, basketball. She receives an unexpected basketball scholarship to an affluent private school, Lakeview Private, and decides to reinvent herself: she doesn’t want to stand out as the “scholarship student”, especially among the rich kids, and especially among the members of the basketball team – her former middle school’s rivals! But reinventing herself comes with a price, and Pippa discovers that she’s getting further away from the person she wants to be while trying to keep pace with the Royals, Lakeview’s version of Queen Bees/Mean Girls/the In-Crowd. She can’t turn to her sister; she can’t turn to her best friend, who won’t talk to her anymore; and she certainly can’t turn to the Royals. When a series of antagonistic social media messages start showing up, threatening to expose Pippa’s real life, she really feels lost.
Inspired by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a relatable middle grade story about a middle schooler dealing with the school stress, family stress, an unrequited crush (with his own family stress), and the stress of keeping her real life secret from her glam friends at school. She’s witty and dorky and just wants to do the right thing, but why is the right thing so hard to do? We want Pippa to get it right, because she’s us.
Kudos to Erin Yun for making The Royals a complex, smart group of characters, too! They’re not vapid Mean Girls, even if some of them – not all, by the way – are straight-up stereotypical. First off, they’re not cheerleaders! Let’s hear it for breaking the stereotype! They are unapologetically feminine, and they’re all business on the basketball court, showing readers that real girls don’t always wear pom-poms; sometimes, they slam dunk. There’s an interesting subplot with Pippa’s tutor-turned-crush, Eliot, and his family’s long-standing emotional baggage, which feeds nicely into Pippa’s main story.
Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a slam-dunk for middle grade readers. It’s smart, funny, and gives readers a heroine they can root for.
Psst… keep your eye on the Pippa Park GoodReads page. Maybe add it to your “To-Read”. I’ve got word there may be a giveaway coming in a few weeks.