Saturday, March 23, 2024

Keeping Pace by Laurie Morrison


If Winning Isn't Everything... Then What Is?
by Laurie Morrison
Amulet Books
Middle Grade Contemporary
304 pages
ages 8 to 12

APRIL 9th!!!

Laurie Morrison’s Keeping Pace is a poignant middle-grade novel about friends-turned-rivals training for a half-marathon—and rethinking what it means to win and what they mean to each other.

Grace has been working for years to beat her former friend Jonah Perkins’s GPA so she can be named top scholar of the eighth grade. But when Jonah beats her for the title, it feels like none of Grace’s academic accomplishments have really mattered. They weren’t enough to win—or to impress her dad. And then the wide, empty summer looms. With nothing planned and no more goals or checklists, she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be working toward.

Eager for something to occupy her days, Grace signs up for a half-marathon race that she and Jonah used to talk about running together. Jonah’s running it, too. Maybe if she can beat Jonah on race day, she’ll feel OK again. But as she begins training with Jonah and checking off a new list of summer goals, she starts to question what—and who—really matters to her. Is winning at all costs really worth it?

Engaging and heartfelt, Keeping Pace is about wanting to win at all costs—and having to learn how to fail.


Grace is determined to beat Jonah and become the top scholar of the eighth grade, but unexpected, tiny incidents throw her out of her groove, and she loses to him. Again. It's an on-going competition between the two, and Grace is determined to beat him at something. When her best friend creates a summer-to-do-list for her, Grace makes sure to add the half-marathon to her list. After all, Jonah is taking part and this might just be her chance to prove she can beat him at something. Despite determination and a solid work-out plan, other things keep popping up to make Grace's life more challenging, including a baby-sitting job for her father's latest girlfriend's son. As she struggles to keep everything going, she's also discovering more about her own desires and emotions...and it might mean that what she's fighting for isn't really what she wants after all. 

The interactions between Grace, her friends, her family, and those around her come across extremely natural, making this an easy story to sink into. The dialogue flows with the finesse of usual conversation and lets the personalities shine through. There are ups and downs, heart-warming moments and clashes. Many of these will come across as familiar to readers and create situations they can sympathize with. Add Grace's determination and good moral compass, and she's a character to identify with and root for.

While Grace's desire to defeat Jonah drives the main plot, it's more like icing on a thicker cake as the subplots weave in more difficult themes. Grace's desire to win isn't simple and might hang more on her parents' divorce a couple years before. Her problems steering between two parents' lives will hit home with many readers, and the toss-in of baby-sitting the girlfriend's child adds a difficult twist, while offering new insights Grace needs. There are also things to be worked out between relatives and friends, but all of this includes wholesome moments and lots of growth. So, there are many great messages packed into this read. And there's a hint of romance, which will delight as well. 

The only weakness I found...and it's more of a personal opinion than a true in the message of not being defined by your accomplishments. Grace hears this message over and over again, especially in connection to her grades. It hits strongly and while it is important to realize reaching high goals isn't everything, it almost undermines the idea that it's still important to try and give the effort. But as said, that's just me and it's still a very lovely read.

All in all, I found this to be a wonderful and extremely well done read, and believe it will connect with quite a few readers in a valuable way.


Ms. Yingling said...

I agree with you about the accomplishments! What am I, if not the sum of all that I have done? Did love the running part, but feel I'm not getting the accomplishment message because it's just not how my generation was raised.

Natalie Aguirre said...

This sounds like a great story that kids will relate to. I get what you're saying about accomplishments, but there is too much pressure on kids these days to accomplish and not all kids will be the best. But they can still enjoy and learn from taking part in activities like Grace.