Freestyle by Gale Galligan

Freestyle by Gale Galligan. Scholastic, 2022. 9781338045802

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: paperback ARC (publication date 10/18/22) graphic novel

What did you like about the book?  Cory Tan’s dance crew 8-Bitz has one last chance to win the Bronx Kids Battle, before they all split up and head off to separate high schools. The crew is ethnically diverse, with Cory cuing as Asian, Tess, the head of the team and its bossy choreographer cuing as Latina, and other members representing the skin tone and language diversity of the Bronx. But even though Cory’s a great dancer, he’s also an iconoclast, butting heads with Tess over his free-styling, and only a C student. Mom and Dad come down hard, grounding him (which makes it tough to keep up with rehearsals) and hiring another student as a tutor. That would be Sunna, a quiet outsider who wears a hijab and clashes with Cory from the start. When Cory discovers Sunna is a dedicated yoyo geek, he’s intrigued, and soon Sunna’s using the promise of lessons in exchange for more effort during their tutoring sessions. Misunderstandings between Cory and the crew about his commitment and his new friendship provide drama, culminating in both a yoyo and the dance competition. 

This was a lively and entertaining read about two subcultures that I haven’t seen represented in other books. The manga-inspired artwork (the kids have big heads and eyes) was very fluid and did a good job of capturing the motion of both the dancing and the yoyo tricks. Galligan also works in some commentary on immigrant families and their high aspirations for their kids; both Sunna and Cory have strict parents who look down on their “frivolous” pastimes and encourage them to focus on what really matters: studying.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I thought the kids in the book looked much younger than 8th grade, which might limit the book’s appeal. Also, except for Cory, Tess, and Sunna, the other kids were just a blur, with little discernible personality. Occasionally Galligan seemed to remember them and try to interject a little saltiness into one or the other, but that just felt random.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Upper elementary or middle school students, especially those interested in dance or yoyos! This would be a good read alike for fans of Svetlana Chmakova’s Berrybrook Middle School series. Galligan succeeded Raina Telgemeier as the illustrator of the The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels, so her fans (and Raina’s) will probably find Freestyle appealing.

Who should buy this book? Elementary, middle schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 17, 2022

This entry was posted in *Book Review, Dance, Friendship, Gale Gilligan, Graphic novel, Middle grade novel, School and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.