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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on December 7, 2010
I adored reading this book and can't wait to share it! Sugar and Ice explores one girl's decision to follow her love of ice skating and accept a scholarship to a prestigious training center. She adjusts to her new routine, where skating lessons take up every ounce of free time. But it's harder to adjust to a new group of friends. I think Kids will love exploring what it means to start competing in major shows, how Claire has to figure out how to skate in her head and master the butterflies in her stomach, and how to handle the mean, super-competitive girls she's now skating with.
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on December 18, 2010
If all middle grade were written as well as this, I think I just might read middle grade forever. Kate Messner's second novel is just as fun, heartfelt, and engrossing as her first. It sent me in ecstacies of delight over how much I loved it!

Claire Boucher loves two things: her family's maple syrup farm and competitive ice-skating. So when she gets the chance to train at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Facility with a world-class coach, she is simultaneously terrified and excited. Making the commitment to the sport involves sacrifices--time with her family and best friend, long commutes several days a week--but it's also a dream come true for her.

Or is it? The more Claire immerses herself in the competitive ice-skating world, the more she realizes how cutthroat it is. Some of the girls who train with her would do almost anything to make it big, and Claire must decide just how much she's willing to sacrifice for her ice-skating dreams.

I don't know much about either collecting sap or ice-skating, but SUGAR AND ICE made me wish I were Claire. She is a delightful protagonist, full of love for her friends, family, and passion, but also young enough to experience the vulnerabilities of dealing with new situations. Her love for ice-skating is so inspiring--Kate Messner describes the skating scenes beautifully--that when she is knocked down by the cutthroat attitude of the ice-skating world, it breaks your heart. I constantly wanted to reach into the book and help Claire out a little: no, don't listen to that girl, she's just jealous of you! Skate for yourself and forget about how others might be judging you!

Supporting characters are colorful and varied. In particular, Tasanee, Claire's good training friend, is Asian, and likes to read popular paranormal YA. I dare you to go into this book and try to figure out which books she reads. So the friends are well-developed, but the mean girls, to my delight, are, too. There's a reason why people turn out mean, and in SUGAR AND ICE we see the different ways that meanness can exert itself, and what drives the girls to desperate measures.

Overall, SUGAR AND ICE is just so wonderfully heartwarming and real. It will remind you of the best and worst of middle-grade girls without the pettiness that sometimes crops up in this age group. Readers of all ages will fall in love with Claire and Kate Messner's writing!
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They say to write what you know. We've all heard that line. It's bounced about countless writing groups. But there's an unspoken rule amongst children that's as pervasive as it is harmful: Read what you know. If you're a soccer fan, only read soccer books. If you like ballet, get a whole bunch of ballet books. Librarians, teachers, and parents can spend countless hours fighting against the sometimes innate understanding some children have acquired that dictates that they can't read about anything outside of the realm of their own (limited) experience. This might be understandable if you were dealing with a writer that played by his or her own rules and failed to let child readers in on the fun, but it's absolutely ridiculous when you're dealing with a book like Kate Messner's Sugar and Ice. Authors that commit to creating worlds that are outside the experience of your average everyday kid and yet are accessible enough for ALL children to enjoy are rare, but they're out there. Sugar and Ice is out there. And you don't have to be a fan of ice skating, Fibonacci, beekeeping, or sugar tapping to enjoy it (though it probably wouldn't hurt if you were).

For Claire Boucher life is pretty simple. Practice skating on the local cow pond. Help out at the small ice skating rink when possible. And for fun, do a segment during the local competition's Maple Festival. All that changes when Claire's routine for fun catches the eye of big-time muckety muck trainer Andrei Groshev. Groshev has a deal for Claire. He's offering her a scholarship to train with other students like herself for huge ice skating competitions. In return, Claire will have to sacrifice the life she's always known. Not a natural competitor, Claire accepts then almost immediately wonders what she's gotten herself into. Most of the kids are nice, but some are jealous of her talent. She hardly has time to do schoolwork as well as training, and worst of all someone is sabotaging her equipment and confidence. In the end, Claire needs to determine if she's got what it takes to be a serious contender, or if she's just gonna go back to her cow pond and forget any of this ever happened.

Let's go back to what I was saying earlier about authors who commit to distinct, one-of-a-kind worlds. In the case of this particular book, Ms. Messner has brought the world of competitive ice skating to real and vibrant life. I think a lot of kids have shared in the experience of watching ice skaters during the Olympics leap, and often fall, in their attempts to nab the gold. There's a very real drama there. But even if you're dealing with a child who has only the haziest understand of ice skating, Claire's life is going to ring true for them. That's because Ms. Messner commits to the bit. She's going to use emotional situations that everyone can relate to and then work in real facts about skating in the gaps. The result is that even though I don't know a triple lutz from a double axel, I can follow this story. The result is that the reader gets the same experience they would have if they read something like Jane Smiley's The Georges and the Jewels about horse training. You don't have to know, or even be interested in, the material when things start. What's important is that the author takes a hold of your heart from the beginning and doesn't let go. Messner does this beautifully.

Such writing usually begins with a main character you can believe in. Claire Boucher's voice is written in the first person throughout this story. Claire is the kind of girl who doesn't like professional competition, so right there Messner had the goal of keeping Claire from sounding whiny. This is a difficult thing to do. If your protagonist has to overcome an obstacle and they keep talking about it, the danger is that your readership is going to get fed up with her and throw the book against a wall. Fortunately for everyone, Ms. Messner makes you really like Claire long before her insecurities take hold. She even works in little details about Claire that affect your view of her, like the fact that what really gets our heroine's blood running hot is skating to the Indiana Jones theme song. I appreciate the non-girlyness of that choice. It's a kickin' sequence and you feel a little jolt of hope after it's done.

As I read the story, I was fascinated to find that I expected everything to have been wrapped up on page 186. This is partly because I didn't really realize that the book is part journey, part mystery. Booktalkers of this title might want to play up the mystery aspect when selling it to kids. I mean somebody is messing up Claire's outfits and doing everything possible to keep her from competing. The fact that Claire points the finger at the wrong person for much of this book is just a red herring. The real culprit is far sneakier. I'd love to interview some kid after they read this book to see if any of them guessed the identity of the real bad guy.

Librarians reading the book will appreciate the references to everything from Schoolhouse Rock to Hattie Big Sky. Kids reading the book will appreciate that the author knows how to speak to more than just ice skating fans. Don't get me wrong... for fans of ice skating this book is nothing short of a dream come true. If I don't see a copy of this book in every single ice skater's gym bag by the end of December I will eat my proverbial hat. But there's a lot of rich writing at work here, above and beyond the obvious plot elements. It's got a relatable heroine, three-dimensional villains, a rags to riches element, some convincingly exhausting sequences, and an ending that will probably catch a couple folks by surprise, both in terms of the villain's reveal and the heroine's final decision. Publishers like to bandy about the term "strong middle grade" to describe books, but it's not always accurate. Consider this book, then, a definite contender in the "strong middle grade" ring. A title that remains in your mind long after you've put it down.

For ages 9-12.
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on August 8, 2013
I give the book four stars, not because it is the best book ever written but because it accurately shows the thoughts and emotions of very young girls, and how easily they can be manipulated and controlled. I fail to understand the mentality of pressuring and forcing children to work night and day to achieve...what? To be the best...what? Is there really nothing more to life than skating, or gymnastics or whatever the sport is? What has the child who has spent every waking hour practicing really achieved? Is the idea of being the "best" regionally, nationally, and the one in millions shot at the Olympics more important than everything else in life? I understand being passionate about a sport but I do not understand people who make tons of money off torturing children, and using up their entire lives, and the parents who go into debt to ensure this, all the while dangling that every elusive "being the best" carrot.

It seems to me that it would be much more healthy to support a child's love for the activity but even more, the importance of school, family, friendships, fun, a healthy approach to eating and body image, and a balance to life. Claire and all the other girls had to sacrifice all of these and this feels abusive to me. I wish the book had touched on how Claire's parents had felt about it, and been more involved in what was going on with her, but there again, such fanatical "coaching" seeks to separate the child from family, and become more easily controlled. Claire was just twelve, and had to navigate total minefields of unbelievable coaching pressure bordering on psychosis, dealing with jealousy, anger, guilt, judgment of performance and self, including appearance and weight. Hannah in the book was driven away by cruel girls who made fun of her body type, with zero repercussions. Claire's possessions were ruined repeatedly and there was no adult who cared to intervene. There was no one who was raising these children, supporting them, guiding them, supervising them, helping them. There was only "Coach." Her parents had removed themselves as parents and her coach only cared about creating "winners," regardless of what the child lost in the process.

I think girls who are interested in a sport should definitely read this book and realize that there is more to life than that sport, and that truly happy, actualized persons care about all facets of their worlds and try to be the best person they can be, not just the best athlete they can be, to the exclusion of everything else. Children get only one chance to be children and to have the experiences and lessons that lead to well rounded adults. There are no do-overs. Claire realized this, but it's alot to expect a barely 13 year old to have to come to on her own, especially with the weight of expectation, and control on her shoulders.
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on December 11, 2010
This is a great book for those who like competitive sports or arts-related activities. Also those who like rags-to-riches stories, star-is-born stories, or just plain terrifically fun stories. My favorite books when I was a kid were the "shoe" books (BALLET SHOES, SKATING SHOES, etc) by Noel Streatfeild. This reminds me a bit of a modern version of one of those. (In other words: it's awesome.)

And don' worry, you don't need to know anything about skating going in. :)
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 26, 2011
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner follows thirteen year old Claire as she receives a scholarship to work with a prestigious figure skating coach. Claire, thrust into this high stress environment has to learn to deal with a crew of backstabbing girls and trying to figure out a way to balance her new schedule with the rest of her life.

Messner does a fantastic job with creating a world that readers can get lost in. Claire's love of skating and her fight for confidence makes her a character that girls can relate to. She has a great relationship with her parents and is understanding of their needs. It is refreshing to see an author paint a young character that has such a healthy understanding of their parents financial and time constraints.

Appropriateness: This book has no objectionable content. The book was much more complex than I would expect for the recommended age. The main character is thirteen and her story is not simple and silly. While I think nine and ten year olds would enjoy this book I think it would be more appreciated by a middle school aged audience of 11-14 than the 9-12 that the publisher recommends.
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on June 13, 2011
Claire has so much going on with her skating, coaching young skaters, school work, working on her family's farm, and hanging out with her friends. One day, all that changes when a famous Russian coach sees her skate at the annual Maple Show. She lands a double toe loop, impressing him greatly.

He offers her a scholarship to skate at the school in Lake Placid for the summer. Claire can't believe it. She almost doesn't take the scholarship. The drive is long, and the maple sap is just starting to run, making it the busiest time of year on the farm. She's afraid she'll miss out on all of the summer fun. Plus, she's terrified of competing.

But Claire can't let fear dominate her life.

The camp isn't what she expected. Claire loves skating. She loves the feel of the ice, and she loves the way the music makes her move. But she's not expecting the crazy intense schedule. She's not expecting sabotage from her teammates. And she's not expecting all the pressure from her coach.

Can she overcome all the odds and prove herself to everyone?

An entertaining, in-depth look at the skating world - where mean girls, intense schedules, and self-doubt fill the locker room. I enjoyed watching Claire's transformation, her fight for her own place, and her struggle to find herself. The skating scenes transported me to the ice, right next to Claire.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Rummel
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on October 22, 2011
Claire thought she had middle school all figured out. She was looking forward to hanging out with her best friend, figure skating, being a junior coach, and helping out on her family farm, especially while the sap that they make into syrup is running. She's also found some new interests, including the math club. But when a famous Russian coach sees her skate at the Maple show, he offers her a scholarship to train with him in the ultra-competitive world of Lake Placid skating.

With her family's support, she accepts which drastically changes her life. Now she has to fit in her homework on the bumpy hour-long rides to Lake Placid, which becomes even harder when her coach keeps adding more and more practices to the schedule. She has no time for friends or math club anymore, and even though a couple of girls are nice to her, a couple are out to get her! When she can't land her jumps, she begins to wonder if she's cut out for this high-pressure world of competition.

This is an excellent book exploring themes of fitting in and figuring out who you are, friendship (and competitive enemies). Though Claire is in middle school, it's the kind of story that younger tweens will enjoy as well (and parents should find appropriate with only very mild romantic themes).
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on August 10, 2012
Great middle-grade novel. I borrowed it from my 8-year-old niece after she said she liked it. I enjoyed the figure skating element and cared about the characters. I thought the author did a nice job of portraying the challenges and pressures that came along with the opportunity to train seriously.
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on January 5, 2012
Very cute, I would have loved reading this a few years ago. But as a skater myself, some of the ideas used were either unrealistic or inaccurate. But for children, it would definitely be a great read.
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