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Playing the Cards You're Dealt

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Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor- and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor-winning author of The Parker Inheritence Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man. SECRETS ARE ALWAYS A GAMBLE Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor- and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor-winning author of The Parker Inheritence Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man. SECRETS ARE ALWAYS A GAMBLE Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he's finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant's friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he'll measure up to his father's expectations at the card table. Then Ant's best friend gets grounded, and he's forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn't exactly what he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash -- way more than his old partner. Plus, he's not sure that his father wants him playing with a girl. But she's smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley -- and keep his plans a secret. Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart...


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Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor- and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor-winning author of The Parker Inheritence Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man. SECRETS ARE ALWAYS A GAMBLE Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which Literary powerhouse and Coretta Scott King Honor- and Boston Globe / Horn Book Honor-winning author of The Parker Inheritence Varian Johnson explores themes of toxic masculinity and family legacy in this heartfelt, hopeful story of one boy discovering what it really means to be a man. SECRETS ARE ALWAYS A GAMBLE Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he's finally old enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant's friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, Ant only has one thing on his mind: how he'll measure up to his father's expectations at the card table. Then Ant's best friend gets grounded, and he's forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn't exactly what he has in mind. She talks a whole lot of trash -- way more than his old partner. Plus, he's not sure that his father wants him playing with a girl. But she's smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley -- and keep his plans a secret. Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart...

30 review for Playing the Cards You're Dealt

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    This book is like a winning hand in spades. Have you ever played spades? My family has always been about games. We have played more card games than anything else. I still remember the 10-point pitch games my uncles used to play at Christmas gatherings. And the trash talk. . . it can really start flying. I do hope that the kids in the target audience for this book are still able to spend time playing cards with their families like Ant does. Ant's story is narrated for us by an unknown individual This book is like a winning hand in spades. Have you ever played spades? My family has always been about games. We have played more card games than anything else. I still remember the 10-point pitch games my uncles used to play at Christmas gatherings. And the trash talk. . . it can really start flying. I do hope that the kids in the target audience for this book are still able to spend time playing cards with their families like Ant does. Ant's story is narrated for us by an unknown individual who refers to him as Youngblood and seems to know the family history very well. Clues will lead you to the true identity so you may guess before the big reveal like I did. Along with spades strategy, this book touches on friendship, loyalty, sibling relationships, parenthood, alcoholism, gambling, and healthy masculinity. I hope this makes its way onto some award lists in the days to come. Thank you to Scholastic for a paperback ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erin Kelly

    What a great book. Excellent narration, amazing voice, great MC, wonderful female rep, lots of humor, and lots of heart. Basically: it’s got everything.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Anthony "Ant" Joplin is in his last year of elementary school (where his aunt is principal-- not at all awkward!), and enjoys hanging out in his small town with his best friend, Jamal. The two are very into the card game, Spades, so sneak a deck of cards into school so they can practice for the upcoming town tournament, since "trash talking" at school has gotten the game banned. His older brother Aaron, also an avid player, is away at a boarding high school. His m E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Anthony "Ant" Joplin is in his last year of elementary school (where his aunt is principal-- not at all awkward!), and enjoys hanging out in his small town with his best friend, Jamal. The two are very into the card game, Spades, so sneak a deck of cards into school so they can practice for the upcoming town tournament, since "trash talking" at school has gotten the game banned. His older brother Aaron, also an avid player, is away at a boarding high school. His mother works in the medical profession, and his father runs an accounting firm that seems to be in trouble. When Ant and Jamal play cards at recess, it doesn't end well, and Jamal ends up being suspended for several days and is banned from the tournament. Ant is disciplined as well, but he does find out that the new girl, Shirley, is a good Spades player, as well as the daughter of one of his mother's friends from her school days. Ant also finds her attractive, and has trouble dealing with his feelings, since he also wants to be friends and have her be his Spades partner, so their interactions are a bit awkward at first. Eventually, they find a way to connect and hang out, but Ant's life is in upheaval. His father had been in rehab for problems with alcohol when Ant was very small, and now seems to be gambling heavily, and Ant suspects he is drinking. He tells Aaron, and when their mother finds out, she has the father move out of the house. The problems with drinking and gambling go much deeper than Ant expects, but he is too embarrassed to tell his friends, even though Jamal's mother has left the family due to her struggles with drug addiction. He is even afraid to tell Shirley, and arranged to practice at her house. He hopes that his father will be able to overcome his addiction, and even tells his father that he and Aaron will be partnering for the Spades competition, since the man who organizes it says that this will be the last one. Shirley is understanding, and is willing to listen to Ant's problems as well. When the tournament rolls around, will Ant's father show his family that he has changed, or is there still work to do? This is a character driven novel filled with an appealing array of friends and family. Ant (who reads a bit older than ten) has realistic struggles in school. He works hard on his assignments but is easily distracted by Spades, and there are issues with other students and the way they act toward him. He enjoys being with Shirley, but wishes the other boys didn't make fun of him for hanging out with her. Aaron is a concerned older brother, his mother a little too supportive, especially with her less than optimal cooking, and his father's problems are shown most in how they affect Ant. I enjoyed the variety of supporting characters, from the teachers and principal at school, to local shop owners and Shirley's parents. It was reassuring to know that Ant had a support network even if he didn't wish to use it often. There is quite a lot of information about Spades, a game about which I know nothing! Johnson gives a nice overview of how the game is played, and there are several games depicted, complete with the trash talk. It was also good to see that Shirley didn't care much for that part of the game, and that Ant realized that his friends' acceptance of trash talk in general wasn't healthy. The one thing that confused me a little was that the book was narrated by Ant's deceased grandfather, but not in a consistent way. Since Spades is a family interest, and there is so much about the dynamics between Ant and his father, this could have been really interesting if we had more information about the grandfather. I wonder if some parts of his involvement were edited out. It's always good to see books with characters who have a passion about something, and Ant's passion for Spades is central to this book. To see how he pursues this passion while also having to deal with significant problems in his personal life will appeal to readers of titles like Feinstein's The Prodigy, Sumner's Tune It Out, and Jones' Jayla Jumps In, where children must deal with their families and how they impact their pursuits.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Dulaney

    Varian Johnson, writer of The Parker Inheritance (Coretta Scott King Honor book) and more, digs into his own experiences for the lynch pin of this book—the game of spades. 12 year old Anthony (aka Ant) doesn’t view playing cards as merely a way to pass the time but as a family tradition and one he must continue. His father’s skills were legendary and so are his older brother’s. But following in those footsteps is particularly difficult when Ant views himself as only a shadow of the older Joplin Varian Johnson, writer of The Parker Inheritance (Coretta Scott King Honor book) and more, digs into his own experiences for the lynch pin of this book—the game of spades. 12 year old Anthony (aka Ant) doesn’t view playing cards as merely a way to pass the time but as a family tradition and one he must continue. His father’s skills were legendary and so are his older brother’s. But following in those footsteps is particularly difficult when Ant views himself as only a shadow of the older Joplin men and not just in playing cards. Johnson tackles self-esteem, substance abuse, family secrets, authentic friendship, and gender roles/expectations in “Playing the Cards You’re Dealt” and does it honestly and in a way that will strike cords in the hearts of middle grade students all over and from a variety of ethnic and economic backgrounds. Sprinkled throughout is laugh out loud humorous relief and a unique, omniscient narrator whose identity is hinted at, but not fully revealed until the very end. With its many opportunities to stop and discuss big issues, this Johnson work is perfect for literature circles, class read alouds and even as a one school/one book choice. Highly recommended with no content reservations. Thanks for the early look, Scholastic!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richie Partington

    Richie’s Picks: PLAYING THE CARDS YOU’RE DEALT by Varian Johnson, Scholastic Press, October 2021, 320p., ISBN: 978-1-338-34853-8 “Spades is a trick-taking card game devised in the United States in the 1930s...The object is to take the number of tricks (also known as ‘books’) that were bid before play of the hand began. Spades is a descendent of the Whist family of card games, which also includes Bridge, Hearts, and Oh Hell. Its major difference as compared to other Whist variants is that, instead Richie’s Picks: PLAYING THE CARDS YOU’RE DEALT by Varian Johnson, Scholastic Press, October 2021, 320p., ISBN: 978-1-338-34853-8 “Spades is a trick-taking card game devised in the United States in the 1930s...The object is to take the number of tricks (also known as ‘books’) that were bid before play of the hand began. Spades is a descendent of the Whist family of card games, which also includes Bridge, Hearts, and Oh Hell. Its major difference as compared to other Whist variants is that, instead of trump being decided by the highest bidder or at random, the Spade suit always trumps, hence the name.” -- Wikipedia “Spades (Card Game)” “Love the girl who holds The world in a paper cup Drink it up Love her and she’ll bring you luck” -- Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s Song” (1971) In PLAYING THE CARDS YOU’RE DEALT, author Varian Johnson deftly addresses both addiction and consent in a heartwarming contemporary middle grade novel appropriate for 8-12 year-olds. Short-statured, fifth grader, Ant (Anthony) Joplin is a pretty good spades player. His big brother Aaron, now away at college, is the two-time reigning champion of the town’s annual spades tournament. The two brothers have spades in their blood--their father Roland taught them well. Unfortunately, their father has serious problems--drinking and gambling addictions. I’ll leave it to you to judge their father for what is gradually revealed, but he’s gotten caught at it again and Ant’s mom has kicked him out--again: “‘Ant sat up. ‘He was really drinking?’ She nodded. ‘His trunk is full of liquor bottles. There are probably more at his office.’ Ant blinked, willing himself not to cry. He did not want to break. To be weak. Not now. ‘I’m so glad I overheard you talking,’ she continued. ‘If you hadn’t woken me up, there's no telling how long this would have gone on.’ That didn’t make Ant feel better at all. It wasn’t like he planned on waking her up. He had wanted to figure this problem out for himself--to get his father to confess--before getting his mother involved. She downed the rest of her coffee. ‘Sweetie, how much do you remember about when your dad was drinking? You know...before? Ant thought about it. ‘Not much. My first real memory of him is of us walking to school on the first day of kindergarten.’ His mom smiled, and for a second, all those creases and wrinkles melted away. ‘He was so happy. So proud of you! And you loved him so much. It was easy for you to accept your father coming back home. Both you boys.’ ‘Dad told me that he never went to one of those treatment centers.’ Ant began to trace invisible words into the table with his index finger. ‘But then how did he stop drinking? Where was he? Six weeks is a long time to be gone.’ Ant’s mother watched as his fingers fluttered across the table. ‘Your father wasn’t gone for six weeks,’ she finally said. ‘He was gone for two years.’ Ant’s eyes sprang open. Wait. What? But--’ ‘I know. He just couldn’t give it up. And I couldn’t let him stay. Drinking--it can change a person. Turn them into someone you barely recognize. You were so little when he left, and somewhere along the way, you heard that famous celebrities go to those clinics for six weeks to get over their addictions. I wasn’t brave enough to burst your bubble.’” Meanwhile, Ant had planned on entering the youth division of the spades tournament with his best friend Jamal. But Jamal started a fight at school and now is not allowed to play. The fight takes place right after Shirley moves to town and becomes the new kid in Ant and Jamal’s class. Shirley and Ant have a forgotten bond--they played together as rugrats because their moms were old friends who will now get to reconnect. Ant is really impressed and intrigued by Shirley. She’s sharp and an excellent spades player. They end up agreeing to partner up for the tournament. But is it just a card deal...or the real deal, as in girlfriend and boyfriend? Young readers will glean some good advice about consent on the fifth grade level (as in hand-holding and kissing). The interactions and developing trust between Ant and Shirley really touched me. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve been reading books aloud over the phone to my eight-year-old grandson. Varian Johnson’s THE PARKER INHERITANCE remains one of his favorites. This one is another winner. Thanks to Ant and Shirley, me and my grandson (mostly me) have been frequenting an online site https://playspades-online.com/, where one can get up to speed by playing spades alongside a trio of computer-generated celebrity players (like Einstein and Beyonce). Richie Partington, MLIS Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/ https://twitter.com/richiespicks [email protected]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Playing the Cards You're Dealt is a middle grade contemporary written by Varian Johnson. It addresses themes of toxic masculinity, family, and legacy in this vividly told novel centering Black 10-year-old card shark Anthony Arnold "Ant" Joplin. As he starts the fifth grade in South Carolina, Ant is preparing for the Oak Grove annual spades tournament. The game is a family tradition in the Joplin house, and Ant, whose play was "less than satisfactory" the previous year, wants to live up to his cha Playing the Cards You're Dealt is a middle grade contemporary written by Varian Johnson. It addresses themes of toxic masculinity, family, and legacy in this vividly told novel centering Black 10-year-old card shark Anthony Arnold "Ant" Joplin. As he starts the fifth grade in South Carolina, Ant is preparing for the Oak Grove annual spades tournament. The game is a family tradition in the Joplin house, and Ant, whose play was "less than satisfactory" the previous year, wants to live up to his champion brother’s success and make their father proud. Ant practices with the help of his trash-talking best friend, Jamal, and meets new schoolmate Shirley, from Texas, who proves to be just as good at spades as Ant. However, as Ant's father, who holds a limited view of masculinity, begins to spiral into online gambling and alcohol abuse, and Jamal’s teasing becomes hurtful, Ant teams up with Shirley for the game, juggling compassion and disappointment as things grow worse on all sides. Playing the Cards You're Dealt is written extremely well – it is far from perfect, but comes rather close. The narrative is written in a charismatic omniscient perspective, which explains the intricacies of the game and its venerable position in Black American culture. Jackson deftly and realistically portrays family, friends, classroom dynamics, and community portrayals give a difficult story a great amount of heart. All in all, Playing the Cards You're Dealt is a wonderful narrative about showing great courage and perseverance when life gets shuffled.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    The third-person narrator literally helps the story move along at points. Loads of crazy/expected things in the life of a new 5th grader. "Know when to hold them...". Lots of spades and cards references throughout, so get used to them. Side note: the book does a great job of teaching the reader how to play spades. So you have no excuse by the end to not know how to play. - addiction, abandonment, new relationships, failing friendships, & fighting all play a role in this book. The third-person narrator literally helps the story move along at points. Loads of crazy/expected things in the life of a new 5th grader. "Know when to hold them...". Lots of spades and cards references throughout, so get used to them. Side note: the book does a great job of teaching the reader how to play spades. So you have no excuse by the end to not know how to play. - addiction, abandonment, new relationships, failing friendships, & fighting all play a role in this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I've been a fan of Varian Johnson's work since his The Great Greene Heist because of the complexity of his characters, but this newest title has to be his best work yet. Honestly, he just keeps getting better and better at storytelling. It's so good that if you have it on your to-read pile, you will want to move it to the top or head to the library and check it out. The book's title can be appreciated on multiple levels, referring, of course, to the cards dealt during a card game, but also to li I've been a fan of Varian Johnson's work since his The Great Greene Heist because of the complexity of his characters, but this newest title has to be his best work yet. Honestly, he just keeps getting better and better at storytelling. It's so good that if you have it on your to-read pile, you will want to move it to the top or head to the library and check it out. The book's title can be appreciated on multiple levels, referring, of course, to the cards dealt during a card game, but also to life's fortunes and misfortunes. Obviously, the story covers a lot of territory that will resonate with readers in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade in particular. Ten-year-old Anthony (Ant) Joplin comes from a long line of skilled card players. His older brother Aaron was a spades champion at the annual Oak Grove tournament, and Ant is itching to make up for his own poor showing the previous year. When his best friend Jamal is unable to play, Ant, who is short in stature compared to his classmates, decides to pair up with Shirley, a skilled card player and new entry to the fifth grade. She's also tall for her age. They practice and slowly start to trust one another while a rift develops between Ant and Jamal. But even while Ant is focused primarily on spades, his whole world comes crashing down when it becomes clear that his father is drinking and gambling, two things his mother cannot abide. As the truth about his father is revealed, Ant feels conflicted, but he still loves the man and wants his approval. In a desperate bid to bring his father back into the fold, Ant throws Shirley under the bus. This book examines toxic masculinity, sexism, addiction, and friendship. While I often dislike intrusive narrators, in this case, the storyteller, who refers to Ant as "youngblood," is an astute observer and occasional commentator who isn't above a tiny bit of meddling. The last two pages in this book are everything as they point out to readers that just because someone is dealt a bad hand doesn't mean that he/she/they should give up; instead, that person can try playing a new or different game that suits his/her/their strengths or the cards they are holding. Honestly, I can't think of a better lesson for any of us. Maybe, just maybe, we need not change our selves but the game we are playing.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really wanted to love this book. And I did like the IDEA of the book. I just didn’t love how it was executed. What I loved: -BIPOC rep -strong female character -normalization of therapy -5th grade main character (lots of middle grade usually 7/8) What I didn’t love: -overhead narration -Not digging deeper on core ideas. -this is just a personal thing but I could not understand how to play the game from the brief narration and just sort of took away from me -ending felt rushed

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Kahn

    I should've finished this terrific novel a lot sooner, but school started and ate up my energy. I just loved this one. I am terrible at cards and still have no idea what spades is, but I adored Ant's devotion to the game and thought the family dynamics, as well as the school dialogue were all spot-on. Ant is an appealing mc. There's a lot of humor here as well as poignant moments. Growing up is hard and Varian Johnson depicts this with so much respect and authenticity for his audience. I should've finished this terrific novel a lot sooner, but school started and ate up my energy. I just loved this one. I am terrible at cards and still have no idea what spades is, but I adored Ant's devotion to the game and thought the family dynamics, as well as the school dialogue were all spot-on. Ant is an appealing mc. There's a lot of humor here as well as poignant moments. Growing up is hard and Varian Johnson depicts this with so much respect and authenticity for his audience.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens

    Spades is as much a game of partnership and trust as it is about cunning and trash talk, but when the deck seems stacked against Anthony, he’s forced to consider what it means to be a good card player as well as a good (young) man. [from Kirkus Reviews]

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Ressler Wright

    Amazing! The audiobook is truly spectacular with Dion Graham giving an all-star voicing of the mysterious narrator. Such a beautiful and funny book that realistically portrays kids' struggles with grace. I love Varian Johnson always, and this book was outstanding! Definitely one for late elementary and onwards to read/listen. Can't wait to hear Varian at #ALAN21. Amazing! The audiobook is truly spectacular with Dion Graham giving an all-star voicing of the mysterious narrator. Such a beautiful and funny book that realistically portrays kids' struggles with grace. I love Varian Johnson always, and this book was outstanding! Definitely one for late elementary and onwards to read/listen. Can't wait to hear Varian at #ALAN21.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen Parisot

    The game of Spades is a big deal in the Joplin family. The men of the family usually win the annual Oak Grove tournament and now it is Anthony’s turn. “Ant” wants so badly to win and make his dad proud. Things aren’t going too well with his dad right now, and Ant wants to believe everything is okay with him. On top of all that, there’s this new girl in school and his best friend is causing trouble. What’s a guy to do? Amusingly narrated by a mysterious character who fires off one clever quip afte The game of Spades is a big deal in the Joplin family. The men of the family usually win the annual Oak Grove tournament and now it is Anthony’s turn. “Ant” wants so badly to win and make his dad proud. Things aren’t going too well with his dad right now, and Ant wants to believe everything is okay with him. On top of all that, there’s this new girl in school and his best friend is causing trouble. What’s a guy to do? Amusingly narrated by a mysterious character who fires off one clever quip after another like, “cool as the fur on a polar bear’s bottom,” this middle grade novel is certain to appeal to lots of young readers. They’ll enjoy following along as Ant experiences his first crush, deals with his friends and comes face to face with addiction in his own family. There are a lot of valuable life lessons to be gleaned and Ant does it all with consideration, faith and a big heart. Highly recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Boyd

    Excellent book. I could see this used in classrooms or just becoming popular with contemporary fiction fans.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    What a lovely book, written by a lovely person. Glad to have had the opportunity (twice!) to interview Varian about his work on NWP's The Write Time! What a lovely book, written by a lovely person. Glad to have had the opportunity (twice!) to interview Varian about his work on NWP's The Write Time!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This book will be an incredible read aloud for grades 5-9. It’s a story about cards and friendship and first crushes, but also about parents with addiction, family secrets, and lots of different types of strength. And it’s Varian Johnson, so you know it’s going to be incredibly well-written, respectful of it’s audience and characters, and have a hint of mystery to it. A must-buy for this fall.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lee

    Jason Reynolds brought the world of track to middle grade novels, and now Varian Johnson has me wanting to play spades. This book has so much packed in, but it never feels like too much. First, there's the amazing craft move with the narrator. (Not going to say any more about that...you'll see why.) Then there are plot lines that explore all the ways to be your own best young Black male self. Anthony has a flute-paying older brother and a trash-talking best friend. His father is battling addicti Jason Reynolds brought the world of track to middle grade novels, and now Varian Johnson has me wanting to play spades. This book has so much packed in, but it never feels like too much. First, there's the amazing craft move with the narrator. (Not going to say any more about that...you'll see why.) Then there are plot lines that explore all the ways to be your own best young Black male self. Anthony has a flute-paying older brother and a trash-talking best friend. His father is battling addiction. The old guys at the corner store dispense the wisdom of elders. His friends give him grief about playing in the spades tournament with a girl, but Anthony appreciates her intelligence and ability. It's a fun book. Varian Johnson's best, imho. Thank you, Scholastic, for the review copy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Hnatiuk

    Anthony Joplin (who goes by Ant) has turned ten and is finally eligible to play in the Spades tournament that has been part of his family tradition for years. His father and older brother are both previous tournament winners, and Anthony wants to follow in their footsteps and continue the Joplin winning tradition. When Ant and his buddy Jamal get caught playing Spades at school (banned for the trash-talking getting out of control), Jamal gets grounded, and Ant decides to play with new girl Shirl Anthony Joplin (who goes by Ant) has turned ten and is finally eligible to play in the Spades tournament that has been part of his family tradition for years. His father and older brother are both previous tournament winners, and Anthony wants to follow in their footsteps and continue the Joplin winning tradition. When Ant and his buddy Jamal get caught playing Spades at school (banned for the trash-talking getting out of control), Jamal gets grounded, and Ant decides to play with new girl Shirley who can hold her own when it comes to cards. Another layer is the many struggles and secrets in Ant’s family and other characters in the story. Ant has to overcome the teasing and “trash-talking” for having a girl as a partner and decide what he should do when he learns his family secrets. Playing the Cards You’re Dealt introduces readers to a few topics that I have not come across often in middle-year books – card-playing, specifically the game of Spades. I enjoyed the theme of card-playing, growing up playing various card games, and I wanted to learn more about the game of Spades. After reading the acknowledgements where Varian Johnson provides his connection to the card game, it added another layer to the realistic portrayal of the “trash talking.” I admit I wondered about the omniscient narrator who refers to Ant as Youngblood and seems to know the family history. This narrator may be confusing for some readers but also is part of the appeal of the story. Playing the Cards You’re Dealt provides readers with another mentor text introducing an omniscient narrator acting as a springboard for discussion. This story realistically tackles some family issues not often discussed. We learn how alcoholism and gambling lead to Ant’s father leaving until he gets some help, while Jamal’s mother deals with drug addiction. The number of well-developed secondary characters that support Ant (and Jamal) as they deal with their situations is remarkable. Ant’s older brother Aaron, the middle school principal, Shirley and her parents, the store owners who run the tournament are all positive role models for readers to connect with and see. Readers who enjoyed this book may wish to read The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz , Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth and/or Stars Beneath My Feet by David Barclay Moore.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    Middle grade contemporary realistic fiction. Anthony (Ant) Joplin is ready for this year, or so he thinks. Now that his brother Aaron is away at school, Ant wants to take over as reigning Spades champion in the annual card tournament. But Ant's partner Jamal gets into a fight and has to quit the tournament as part of his punishment. After some hesitation based on loyalty to Jamal, Ant asks the new girl in his class to be his partner. Shirley is unlike anyone Ant has ever met, smart and sassy and Middle grade contemporary realistic fiction. Anthony (Ant) Joplin is ready for this year, or so he thinks. Now that his brother Aaron is away at school, Ant wants to take over as reigning Spades champion in the annual card tournament. But Ant's partner Jamal gets into a fight and has to quit the tournament as part of his punishment. After some hesitation based on loyalty to Jamal, Ant asks the new girl in his class to be his partner. Shirley is unlike anyone Ant has ever met, smart and sassy and great at Spades. As they practice after school, they become friends and confidants. Which is good, because it is becoming increasingly clear that Jamal is not the friend Ant thought he was. And then there's stuff going on at home-- with Ant's dad struggling with both gambling and alcohol addictions. Will Ant be able to carry on the family legacy and win the Spades tournament? This book tells a wonderful story and also respects the young reader audience it is intended for. Johnson weaves in messages about the importance of consent (in the context of hugging and holding hands) and the problems with toxic masculinity. He's not subtle but he's also not condescending. As for the story, it is a sensitive portrayal of a young child dealing with adult problems. Ant deals with a lot of issues at once because that's how life is, and this story rings true because of it. Back matter includes a list of resources on alcoholism and addiction.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    First, I won a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway, but all opinions are my own. Now to review it...I liked this one okay enough. It tackled a topic I don't often find in middle grade novels, so that was really nice to see- I appreciated the tackling of this tough topic. I found some of the book annoying (the narrator grated on my nerves- it was a weird perspective, I felt) and ultimately I hated the idea of kids literally reading and essentially learning how to make excuses like Ant's First, I won a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway, but all opinions are my own. Now to review it...I liked this one okay enough. It tackled a topic I don't often find in middle grade novels, so that was really nice to see- I appreciated the tackling of this tough topic. I found some of the book annoying (the narrator grated on my nerves- it was a weird perspective, I felt) and ultimately I hated the idea of kids literally reading and essentially learning how to make excuses like Ant's dad did throughout the book (this just really bothered me, I know it's reality, but)...of course I recognize that some kids actually do hear these things and have lives like this. I do wish this had been a bit more addressed in the book. I found some of the talks between characters trite and preachy, but then again, maybe it needed to be said. In the end, it was an okay story and it did tackle different issues I appreciated, but I can only say I hope this book finds its way to the kids who need it, to the right readers...I hope those young kids have help finding their way to this book and other resources out there for them (something I found the book didn't address, as well). If I were a teacher or librarian, this book would be in my pocket, but I'm not altogether sure I'd put this on my list of must reads as a general rule.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    Multiple themes of addiction to alcohol and gambling, bullying and friendship, and family inhabit this contemporary book for teens and tweens. The main characters are 10-year-olds who love to play Spades, an interesting variation on Bridge, with a gambling component and lots of "Trash talking" without much cussing. The book is written in colloquial English and Black slang. Anthony (Ant) Joplin and his best friend Jamal love to play Spades. But when Jamal is grounded, Ant asks the new girl Shirle Multiple themes of addiction to alcohol and gambling, bullying and friendship, and family inhabit this contemporary book for teens and tweens. The main characters are 10-year-olds who love to play Spades, an interesting variation on Bridge, with a gambling component and lots of "Trash talking" without much cussing. The book is written in colloquial English and Black slang. Anthony (Ant) Joplin and his best friend Jamal love to play Spades. But when Jamal is grounded, Ant asks the new girl Shirley to be his partner in the tournament. Shirley is cute and sharp and a good card player as are all the members of her family. Ant is also pretty good. Still.... Ant, Jamal, and Shirley are each dealing with family members who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and gambling in their own way. They must join together to support one another and to learn self-assurance without stumbling over their self-pride. It's a great book for tweens and tweens who love to play games of all types and those who are learning to navigate the ins and outs of teen-hood. I will admit I had a difficult time relating to the characters. The language added flavor to the telling. Thanks to Scholastic for an ARC to read and review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    11yo Ant (Anthony) and his best friend Jamal are all about a card game called Spades. They practice whenever they can and are planning to enter the town Spades Tournament in a couple of weeks. But things at Jamal's house are rough right now, and when Jamal gets in a fight, the principal bans the card game, and Jamal loses his permission to play in the tournament. So, Ant, needing a partner, asks the new girl in class to play with him (yes, he's teased about it and everything) but as things in An 11yo Ant (Anthony) and his best friend Jamal are all about a card game called Spades. They practice whenever they can and are planning to enter the town Spades Tournament in a couple of weeks. But things at Jamal's house are rough right now, and when Jamal gets in a fight, the principal bans the card game, and Jamal loses his permission to play in the tournament. So, Ant, needing a partner, asks the new girl in class to play with him (yes, he's teased about it and everything) but as things in Ant's home life start to implode, he finds himself more worried about his dad than his game. I'm not familiar at all with the game of Spades, but Johnson keeps the reader right there without getting too technical about the ins and out of play. Picking up the book, I thought it would be about the card game, but it's about alcoholism and family and friendships, and getting through things together. More poignant than I expected - first Jamal (and how he reacted to family trouble) and then Ant (and how he reacted). This won't be hard to recommend at all - great characters, an exciting plot and a terrific message. Crossposted to http://kissthebook.blogspot.com

  23. 5 out of 5

    lisa

    This book was somewhat similar to Louis Sachar's The Cardturner in that it talked a lot about a card game I knew nothing about, but if I skimmed over those games there was a good story there. In this case, the card game is not bridge but Spades, which Ant has played his whole life. Spades is a big deal in his neighborhood, where his father and grandfather are well-known card players, and even his brother Aaron is making a name for himself winning tournaments. Ant is trying to stand out on his ow This book was somewhat similar to Louis Sachar's The Cardturner in that it talked a lot about a card game I knew nothing about, but if I skimmed over those games there was a good story there. In this case, the card game is not bridge but Spades, which Ant has played his whole life. Spades is a big deal in his neighborhood, where his father and grandfather are well-known card players, and even his brother Aaron is making a name for himself winning tournaments. Ant is trying to stand out on his own by entering his own tournament, even as his home life becomes complicated, and his loyalties become torn between his parents, and his friends. This is a sweet book that touches on topics I don't often see in children's book, particularly toxic masculinity, and addiction that is not as obvious as it seems. It also features a tough, smart girl -- the new girl in town Shirley, who over the course of the book becomes Ant's friend. I would recommend it for fans of Jason Reynolds.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Yapha

    There is a lot going on in Ant's last year of elementary school. His older brother is away at boarding school and for the first time he has to deal with it on his own. His father has started acting strange and puts Ant in the middle, asking him to keep secrets from his mother. His best friend Jamal is dealing with his own family issues has turned really mean. Ant's becoming friends with the new girl at school and is facing all kinds of teasing because of that. Most important of all, the annual c There is a lot going on in Ant's last year of elementary school. His older brother is away at boarding school and for the first time he has to deal with it on his own. His father has started acting strange and puts Ant in the middle, asking him to keep secrets from his mother. His best friend Jamal is dealing with his own family issues has turned really mean. Ant's becoming friends with the new girl at school and is facing all kinds of teasing because of that. Most important of all, the annual community Spades (card game) Tournament is coming up and Ant has to win this year. His grandfather, his father, and his brother have all won it. Ant is still trying to live down his horrible loss from last year. But how can he focus on cards when everything is falling apart? This was a great story about looking at the messages passed on in families and how we choose where our loyalties lie. Highly recommended for grades 5 & up. eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Hamilton

    Ant is 10, he's into spades like his father and his brother even though he had a meltdown at the end of the tournament last year. He's focused on the new tournament, but his best friend Jamal is kind of mean to him and wants to cheat. He finds a friend and maybe a partner in Shirley, a girl. Can it work out? And is that the biggest problem or is his father having issues with alcohol again, making everything feel iffy. This book made it feel like Ant was a bit older most of the time, though I did Ant is 10, he's into spades like his father and his brother even though he had a meltdown at the end of the tournament last year. He's focused on the new tournament, but his best friend Jamal is kind of mean to him and wants to cheat. He finds a friend and maybe a partner in Shirley, a girl. Can it work out? And is that the biggest problem or is his father having issues with alcohol again, making everything feel iffy. This book made it feel like Ant was a bit older most of the time, though I did like the friendship between a girl and boy that was highlighted. The importance of partnership, the issues with family, all are well explored. I loved the narration--the narrator is a character which I loved...until the end and it was revealed who they were. But it wasn't enough to ruin the book for me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Overall, my son (9) and I liked this book. I appreciated the honest approach to a tough subject- addiction- specifically alcoholism and gambling addiction (which is handled more tangentially of the two). Ant’s struggles feel very real-world, as he’s torn between loyalties to his brother, his mom, his dad, and his oldest friend, even as he becomes friends with a new girl, Shirley. We love games so enjoyed the subject of the book (the card game Spades). My primary criticism is around the relentles Overall, my son (9) and I liked this book. I appreciated the honest approach to a tough subject- addiction- specifically alcoholism and gambling addiction (which is handled more tangentially of the two). Ant’s struggles feel very real-world, as he’s torn between loyalties to his brother, his mom, his dad, and his oldest friend, even as he becomes friends with a new girl, Shirley. We love games so enjoyed the subject of the book (the card game Spades). My primary criticism is around the relentless teasing about crushes and stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. From the “your mama” teasing to the “you want to play with a girl?” harassment, it felt very 1990’s or earlier and reflected attitudes that made me uncomfortable, even if they were seen by Ant as bad/negative. I didn’t love sharing that with my son. 3.5 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katie Reilley

    Card games and the game of life have a lot in common. There’s strategy, luck, rules, risks and rewards. It’s important to know what kind of player you want to be. Fifth grader Anthony (Ant) Joplin wants to follow in the famous footsteps of the Joplin men. His grandfather, his daddy, and his brother have all earned the honor of winning the yearly local spades tournament. But family legacies can be tricky, especially when they’re accompanied by a startling secret about someone you love. Told by an Card games and the game of life have a lot in common. There’s strategy, luck, rules, risks and rewards. It’s important to know what kind of player you want to be. Fifth grader Anthony (Ant) Joplin wants to follow in the famous footsteps of the Joplin men. His grandfather, his daddy, and his brother have all earned the honor of winning the yearly local spades tournament. But family legacies can be tricky, especially when they’re accompanied by a startling secret about someone you love. Told by an omniscient narrator (whose identity is revealed at the end), this moving novel about family legacies, empathy, and the toxic culture of masculinity is sure to spark discussions among middle grade readers. Publishing October 5, 2021. Preorder now!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    This would be a nice compliment to Genesis Begins Again from how the tough topics are dealt with to the family connectedness to the bits of humor while the reader follows the middle grade protagonist on their journey. It's sweet and kind but this one has some lightheartedness and a whole lot of card playing which is delightful and competitive, coming off of Netflix series The Queen's Gambit and COVID in which lots more family's went back to the basics (puzzles, cards, board games) so it hits on This would be a nice compliment to Genesis Begins Again from how the tough topics are dealt with to the family connectedness to the bits of humor while the reader follows the middle grade protagonist on their journey. It's sweet and kind but this one has some lightheartedness and a whole lot of card playing which is delightful and competitive, coming off of Netflix series The Queen's Gambit and COVID in which lots more family's went back to the basics (puzzles, cards, board games) so it hits on a lot of notes and has the same richness of character and story of his others.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Mixed feelings on this title. Broaches topics including alcoholism, gambling, and how adults can truly let you down. Does so in matter of fact way, but I didn’t get a sense of closure with the way things ended (a lot rushed as if needed to keep to page limit). Periphery characters also come and go from mom, to brother, (former) best friend, and resident neighborhood drinker covering things up with a paper bag (do people still do that or is that a stereotype?) Rooted for Ant, but wished there was Mixed feelings on this title. Broaches topics including alcoholism, gambling, and how adults can truly let you down. Does so in matter of fact way, but I didn’t get a sense of closure with the way things ended (a lot rushed as if needed to keep to page limit). Periphery characters also come and go from mom, to brother, (former) best friend, and resident neighborhood drinker covering things up with a paper bag (do people still do that or is that a stereotype?) Rooted for Ant, but wished there was more shared about his story.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Johnson's latest novel is brilliant-- it's full of fifth-grade spirit and a caring community while also handling coming of age issues like toxic masculinity and the difficult emotions Ant has when he learns his father struggles with addictions to gambling and alcoholism. These serious topics are handled in a way that's accessible to young readers without oversimplifying them, and I'm sure there are lots of kids (and adults like myself) who will find solace and comfort in Ant's story because of i Johnson's latest novel is brilliant-- it's full of fifth-grade spirit and a caring community while also handling coming of age issues like toxic masculinity and the difficult emotions Ant has when he learns his father struggles with addictions to gambling and alcoholism. These serious topics are handled in a way that's accessible to young readers without oversimplifying them, and I'm sure there are lots of kids (and adults like myself) who will find solace and comfort in Ant's story because of it.

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