Playing the Cards You’re Dealt by Varian Johnson

Published by Scholastic

Playing the Cards You're Dealt: Johnson, Varian: 9781338348538:  Books

Summary:  Ant’s the shortest kid in his fifth grade class and that’s just the beginning of his problems.  His number one concern is winning the local spades tournament to redeem himself after a humiliating loss last year.  The Joplin men are famous for their spades playing, and his brother and father are encouraging him and his best friend and teammate Jamal to win.  But in the weeks leading up to the tournament, things seem to fall apart.  Jamal gets in a fight at school and has to drop out.  A new girl named Shirley proves herself to be an excellent spades player and a good friend, leaving Ant feeling confused.  Worst of all, Ant’s dad starts drinking and gambling again, and Ant has to come to terms with the fact that Dad has a pattern of letting him down.  Told by a folksy omniscient narrator (whose identity is revealed near the end), Ant’s story shows that friends and family may not always be who they seem…and that it’s important to lean into the support of the ones who are always there for you.  Includes a list of substance abuse resources for readers.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Varian Johnson once again proves himself a master storyteller with this engaging story that doesn’t shy away from tough topics, but is also filled with humor and realistic, well-developed characters and situations.  A good contender for Coretta Scott King and/or Newbery consideration.  I am still recovering from my 2019 disappointment when The Parker Inheritance failed to win Newbery (although it did get a CSK honor).

Cons:  Spades sounded a lot like bridge, a game that has filled me with frustration in the past, so I kind of skipped over the card game descriptions.

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