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Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson

Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson is a juvenile fiction book good for 4-6th graders.

Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin wants nothing more than to compete in the annual Spades tournament and follow in the footsteps of a long line of Joplin winners. When Ant's best friend and partner in the tournament gets grounded, Ant has to find a new partner that will measure up. Shirley, a new girl in school, may just be the partner he was looking for... but is it OK to partner with a girl?

On top of pressures to live up to his father's expectations, Ant realizes that there is trouble at home and no one sees it but him. Could is dad really be drinking again? If isn't sure and tells, then he may only make things worse. When it all becomes too much, will Ant buckle under the pressure OR will he put his trust in others to help lift the load?

This was a juvenile, realistic fiction novel that really felt real. Ant's emotions, his insecurities, felt true. He had all those questions and doubts about whether he should be suspicious about his father's actions. He wanted to believe his dad but he also didn't want to lie to his mom and brother. He feels the guilt and the self blame as he tries to process emotions that his young mind just cannot rationalize. And I think that is what made this a really great read. Ant, thinks and acts how I imagine any child in his shoes would think and act.

I also like the friendship Shirley and Ant forge throughout the book. There's this obvious "like" between the two but they are filled with that awkward, "hey, I can be friends with the opposite sex... even if I do sorta like-like them," vibe.

Ultimately, this book felt true and down-to-earth. It is about friendship, family and knowing "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em." This one gets a high 4.5 stars from me.

That's all for now!


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