Meanwhile, she starts to realize how much her single mother has sacrificed to make her dreams a possibility. But Ana isn’t sure what her dreams are anymore. Even with her success on the ice, she has never felt at home in her own skin, and not because of her unusual half-Chinese, half-Jewish heritage. She finds herself wincing when people call her “Miss” or use her full name, and she can’t shake the visceral shudder she feels when pressured into acting like a typical girl. Still, she can’t pinpoint the source of her anguish.
While her best friend, Tamar, texts constantly, wanting to hear about her life at the new rink, Ana is fascinated by a skater named Hayden who has just moved to the area from Minnesota and will be starting group lessons. Ana works as a skating assistant and is curious as to why Hayden’s mom has requested an update to his name and asked everyone to use male pronouns for him. She learns terms she never knew before — gender-neutral, nonbinary — and an entire world opens up to her, one she desperately wants to explore but doesn’t understand why. “Can people really ask others to call them whatever they want?” she asks herself, since she doesn’t trust anyone to give her the answer.
When they meet, Hayden starts calling Ana “Alex” and thinks she’s a boy because she’s wearing the wrong name tag by mistake. She doesn’t correct him. Ana becomes good friends with Hayden, spending a lot of time with him and his family, who all think she’s one of the guys. Every time she has an opening to clear up the misunderstanding she doesn’t take it. She even goes so far as to avoid entering a public bathroom in front of him. Ana wants to clarify her identity in her own mind before she defines herself to others.
Tamar feels her pull away and misconstrues her evasion as selfishness. Her mom and her coach are kept in the dark about her hatred of the new program and costume. If she can’t even get her mother to call her Ana instead of Ana-Marie, how can she explain that she doesn’t know where she fits in terms of gender?
“It’s not my body that makes me feel uncomfortable, or the shimmering, sparkling costume,” Ana realizes when she looks in the mirror at herself in the “Sleeping Beauty” dress. “It’s what other people will think of me when they see me wearing it: girl, princess, Intermediate lady.”
Setting the record straight is hard to do when you don’t know what your truth is, especially at 12. Ana has some difficult encounters when she finally unburdens herself to Tamar, to her mom, to her coach and, toughest of all, to Hayden. But their responses surprise her. She feels at peace with letting go of her secrets and ready to make her own choices — at school, at home, at the rink.
Sass has created dynamic, original characters who are believable and fun to follow. Sometimes it’s unclear where he’s going with his story lines — especially Hayden’s love of cosplay, which he introduces halfway through the novel — but the plot comes together nimbly toward the end. You can’t help rooting for Ana, though we’re left wondering how she will move forward. “I haven’t figured out if I want to try different pronouns yet,” she tells her mother, “so you can keep using ‘she’ for now.”
Ana decides to continue skating, and raises the possibility of competing someday in the men’s category, a new challenge that could be a book in itself.