Lau­ra Shovan

  • Review
By – December 24, 2018

This refresh­ing and well-writ­ten nov­el intro­duces read­ers to sixth graders Mikay­la (Mick­ey) and Lev, both of whom par­tic­i­pate on a trav­el wrestling team. Lev is not pleased when Mick­ey, a ded­i­cat­ed wrestler from a fam­i­ly of cham­pi­ons, is assigned to be his new part­ner. Ulti­mate­ly, though, Lev and Mick­ey forge a friend­ship by con­fronting sex­ism in the sport, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the per­son of their coach who isn’t in favor of female wrestlers.

Lau­ra Shovan weaves togeth­er the par­al­lel and inter­sect­ing sto­ries of Lev and Mick­ey, with each char­ac­ter nar­rat­ing alter­nat­ing chap­ters. Both deal with typ­i­cal mid­dle school prob­lems of self-iden­ti­ty: They ques­tion where they fit in with their friends, at school, with­in their fam­i­lies, and on their wrestling team. Through Mick­ey, Lev, and their team­mates, Shovan helps young read­ers think through these con­cerns too — but in an under­stat­ed way. She also inserts sub­tle ref­er­ences to Jew­ish cel­e­bra­tions includ­ing Shab­bat and Hanukkah (Lev is Jew­ish), and famil­iar­izes read­ers with the rules and excite­ment of wrestling.

Even for read­ers unfa­mil­iar with wrestling, Take­down may inspire them to con­front dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions in their own lives and, if they fol­low the exam­ple of the very real and lik­able pro­tag­o­nists, will make wise and mature decisions.

Paula Chaiken has worked in a vari­ety of capac­i­ties in the Jew­ish world — teach­ing in reli­gious school, curat­ing at the Sper­tus Muse­um and fundrais­ing for the Fed­er­a­tion — for more than twen­ty years. She also runs a bou­tique pub­lic rela­tions con­sult­ing firm and enjoys read­ing all sorts of books with her three sons.

Discussion Questions