Skating on Mars

Written by Caroline Huntoon, Published by Feiwel and Friends Book, 2023

Mars is a seventh grade, twelve-year-old Michigan ice skater, who fell in love with skating at the age of four and has been involved with competitive figure skating ever since. With their skates laced up and the ice under their feet, they have always felt on top of the world. As the story begins, life isn’t so easy for Mars. For one thing, they are grappling with the recent death of their father, and for another, there is the realization that they are feeling more and more uncomfortable skating as a girl. In the first chapter Mars writes:

Of course, I’d like it more if I had the ice to myself. Instead, there are eleven other skaters with their coaches running through similar routines. They’re all girls. Eleven girls and me – a skater who looks like they might be a girl … but isn’t. I’m nonbinary – or enby, which comes from shortening nonbinary to NB and then writing it out. Enby. That’s me. Not a girl or a boy – something in the middle.

Mars struggles with coming out to their family, their skating coach, and at school. Mars does come out to best friend Libby, an eighth grader who has been a lifelong friend, and who also skates competitively. Libby is the one who came up with the nickname Mars. Mar’s formal name Veronica was picked by their parents, because of a favorite TV show, Veronica Mars. Libby reasons that Mars is a perfect nickname because it has connection to their birth name and is the Roman god of war. When Mars competes on the ice, they are like a warrior; they love to skate, and they skate to win!

When Libby’s pairs partner, an older high school boy named Xander, challenges Mars to compete against him, to prove who is the better skater, Mars takes him on. They will both skate in this weekend’s Snowball competition in Canton, Michigan. And to make sure the competition is totally fair, Mars decides to sign up and compete in the men’s division, where Xander is competing, rather than in the category Mars should be competing in – all skaters twelve-and-under. Mars writes, “And that means I can’t exactly be enby Mars. I have to be … a boy. I start counting the lies I’ll have to tell in my head. One – I’m thirteen. Two – I’m a boy. I say them over and over. I’m thirteen. I’m a boy. I’m thirteen. I’m a boy.”

As the competition draws near, Mar’s inner struggles, both in figuring out who they are and in how they want to present themself, start to complicate their skating and performance on the ice. Mars begins to second-guess if there truly is a place for them in competitive skating at all.

This story about a young, gifted athlete trying to find their place and compete in a gendered sport is moving, passionate, affecting, and beautifully written. Mars is a character that upper elementary and middle school readers will cheer, as Mars navigates the binary world of figure skating and searches a new path for themself on the rink and in life. It was especially fun for me to read a story set in suburban Detroit, Michigan, which is my home.

Caroline Huntoon (they/them) is a writer, educator, and theatre director based in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Skating on Mars is their debut novel, and a second middle grade book, Linus and Etta Could use a Win, will be published in 2024. Caroline writes middle grade and young adult books across genres; their work often circles back to themes of loss, identity, friendship, and validating the messy and wonderful lives of young people. Caroline will be appearing in person at Booksweet bookstore in Ann Arbor on October 29th at 2 pm for a tween writing workshop. If you are a writer between the ages of 9-13 and have interest in registering for this free event, click this link and learn more.

This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans advocate Barb Shumer, who is a past board member and retired public librarian.

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