Playing the Cards You're Dealt
by Johnson, Varian

Hoping to measure up to his father's expectations at the card table, ten-year-old Anthony Joplin keeps his strategy a secret until he discovers his father has been hiding one that could tear their family apart.

Varian Johnson is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including The Parker Inheritance, which won both Coretta Scott King Author Honor and Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor awards, The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children's book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, and a Texas Library Association Lone Star List selection, and the graphic novel Twins co-created with Shannon Wright, an NPR Best Book. He lives with his family near Austin, Texas. You can visit him on the web at and @varianjohnson.

*Starred Review* Ten-year-old Anthony "Ant" Joplin has always been captivated by the game of spades. Game play has been passed down in his Black community from generation to generation, and Ant loves teaming up with his best friend, Jamal, to take on the other kids. After a disastrous showing in last year's junior division, Ant and Jamal are hell-bent on proving their prowess at an upcoming tournament. They've been practicing their skills-and trash talk-and feel confident about their chances, but change looms on the horizon: Ant has a burgeoning crush on a new fifth-grader, his beloved dad is struggling with work and acting strangely, and Jamal won't be honest with his pal about problems at home. As observant Ant awakens to issues of alcoholism and sexist double standards, he is unsure of how best to help the people he loves, particularly if they hurt him in the process. The ever-present game of spades is a clever thread that binds the story together, and a chatty, omniscient narrator is there to explain the game to the uninitiated. The cards provide plenty of fodder for spades-related wisdom ("you lose 100% of the games you're too scared to play"), as a fierce sense of family and community root Ant and lift him up even in the toughest moments. A compelling story of cards, courage, and compassion. Grades 4-7. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

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. Ten-year-old South Carolina native Anthony Arnold Joplin prefers Ant; to his chagrin, however, the nickname "little man" has stuck. He's short. He gets it. But when his spades partner and best friend Jamal's constant ribbing leads even to Shirley, the cute new girl from Texas, teasing Ant about his height, he starts questioning his skills, his relationships, and how his so-called best friend makes him feel. Eventually, Ant and Shirley hit it off despite Ant's being too shy to admit it, but issues in the Joplin household and Jamal's own volatility put a lot of stress on this budding relationship. Ant's father is an alcoholic and gambler with a lot of reductive opinions on masculinity that confuse the naturally compassionate and thoughtful Ant. Spades becomes a way for Ant to prove himself to his father and hopefully mend some familial wounds, as well as a compelling allegory for the ways he must navigate some uniquely thorny setbacks. A charismatic omniscient narrator explains the intricacies of the game and its venerable position in Black American culture. Realistic character and community portrayals give a difficult story a great amount of heart. Main characters are Black. A story about showing great courage and perseverance when life gets shuffled. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Terms of Use   ©Copyright 2021 Follett School Solutions