Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin is the National Juvenile Girl’s Figure Skating Champion in “Ana on the Edge” (Little Brown 2020) by A.J. Sass. Ana trains in the Bay Area, lives with her supportive mother, and has a devoted best friend, Tamar. Ana is progressing so quickly she must leave Tamar behind and train with her coach Alex at a rink across town.
Ana is determined to do so well in competition that she’ll bypass Regionals and progress straight to Nationals, in order to save her single mom a load of expenses. Her mom works three jobs in order to pay the huge expenses of the sport. A Russian super-star choreographs Ana’s new free skate. Alas, it’s princess-themed and danced to sweet lyrical music. This just isn’t Ana’s thing. She’s a strong powerful mover. Ana doesn’t tell anyone how disturbing this choreography is to her.
New skater, Hayden, a transgender boy who has recently come out, arrives at the rink. Ana introduces herself as A and Hayden thinks she’s a boy. Ana likes this, so she doesn’t correct him, as they develop their friendship. “I am a girl,” she thinks to herself. But she doesn’t identify as a girl exactly. “If I’m not a girl, then . . . what?”
She gets her hair cropped very short and Hayden’s whole family thinks she’s a boy. She stands Tamar up a couple of times, in order to see Hayden, which, of course, strains her BFF friendship.
Ana is not exactly nailing her new lyrical skate dance. Her choreographer advises, “Feel the music. Become the princess.” Anna quips to herself, “What does she want me to do, sprout a crown?” And then the costume arrives. A sequined dress! She hasn’t performed in a dress since she was a little girl. And it costs thousands, as does the choreographer. She thinks, “I’m a strong skater who lands jumps on perfectly timed crescendos.” She’s all about “speed and power instead of portraying a delicate character.” She can’t tell her coach, her mother, Tamar, and especially not Hayden about her feelings.
To me that’s a weakness in the plot. Why can’t she question Hayden who has just recently come out? Why would she think he wouldn’t understand a situation similar to his own? But I go along with it because the identity crisis is so intriguing. And I’m sure there are young readers experiencing something similar to Ana’s.
So there’s no one she can confide in, but she does some great thinking, like: “Maybe I’m not a boy like he thinks, but it doesn’t feel right to call myself a girl, either. I need to find a word that describes this in-between feeling.” And if the reader doesn’t already know, you learn about non-binary identity as A does.
Thank heavens for A’s supportive mother, even if she is presently confused. Is there a young person you know who might benefit from this story by “expert” A.J. Sass, whose pronouns are he/they and has medaled in U.S. Figure Skating?
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning Lift As You Climb; Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue all signed and for sale at Jane Addams bookstore. She teaches community classes at Parkland. talesforallages.com