Freestyle by Gale Galligan

This was my first Gale Galligan but y’all, I’m in love! From the sweet middle school shenanigans to the absolutely adorable art, I was all in for this story of young Corey Tan navigating eighth grade with old friends and interests and new.

Corey is not the greatest student, to the disappointment of his Filipino American parents. When his latest report card comes back with mostly Cs, his parents hire a tutor to help bring up his grades so he can do well on the upcoming high school placement tests. Trouble is, the tutor is Sunna, his annoying new lab partner. Sure she’s top of their class, but Corey’s frustration with her standoffish choice to do their partner-work solo and not give him a chance to even try the experiments spills over to their first tutorial session, leading to a huge fight overheard by his mother. Corey is swiftly grounded for being wildly disrespectful.

This is especially unfortunate because Corey’s dance crew is practicing hard for what might be the last competition of their middle school career. Tess, their crew leader and choreographer, is super gung ho about winning, freaking out at any deviation from the steps she’s assigned each member of Eight Bitz. Corey doesn’t know how to tell them that he can’t make it to rehearsals any more, a dilemma that’s further complicated when he discovers Sunna’s hidden talent at the yo-yo. Soon, she’s bribing him with yo-yo lessons to do his actual tutorial work, even as a sweet friendship develops between them. But what will Corey do when his awkward attempts to integrate all the things and people he likes into his life goes horribly wrong, leaving everyone mad at him even as he’s just honestly trying his best?

This was one of the sweetest yet most realistic depictions of how really freaking difficult middle school friendships can be. Even as I was reading it, I was recommending it to my own middle schooler. I especially appreciated how the relationship between Corey and Sunna wasn’t a romance, tho the door wasn’t entirely closed against that either. The many different kinds of friendship on display was really refreshing, as was the diversity of the cast and their interests.

And oh gosh, the art! The mildly anime style was perfect for this story, tho I freely admit to being a little annoyed at the amount of art that fell into the book’s gutter, making it difficult to look at without pulling hard at the spine. And maybe that’s just an issue with the advance reading copy I had (tho in about 90% of cases like these, ARC format issues carry over to finished copies.) Regardless, I squeed hard at the kids’ cutest expressions throughout, and loved the magical framing of the characters really entering that flow state where they’re 100% absorbed in their hobbies.

I also have to say, as a Muslim who grew up in a Muslim-majority country, it was nice to see an American main character who wore a hijab but wasn’t a weird fundie about relating to other kids. It was really great that her main issue was growing up in her older brother’s shadow instead of any arbitrary religious hang ups. It’s always annoying to me when a woman wearing a hijab is automatically considered more hardline conservative than one who doesn’t, as if Muslim culture is the same all over the world about things like the opposite sex, dancing or dressing up.

Freestyle by Gale Galligan was published October 18 2022 by Graphix and is available from all good booksellers, including

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    • kirsten on January 11, 2024 at 8:17 pm
    • Reply

    What school does Corey go to?

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