Book Review of Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
The Children’s Book Review
What to Expect: Family, gambling, friendship, masculinity, Black culture
Written from the semi-omnipotent perspective of an unknown Joplin man, Playing the Cards You’re Dealt is a funny, moving, and thought-provoking exploration of both growing up and right and wrong.
Ant has a lot to worry about for a ten-year-old. Like whether his dad is a secret gambler and drinker, whether his best friend’s mom is going to come back home this time, and whether that tingly feeling he gets every time he talks to the new girl in class might be something more than an annoyance. However, Ant’s only really concerned with one thing: winning the upcoming Spades tournament and securing his faltering reputation as a Joplin Man.
When Ant’s best friend and partner gets himself grounded, Ant has no choice but to team up with the new girl – a sharp player but an unknown quantity in more ways than one. Even worse – he doesn’t think his dad will be too impressed that he’s teamed up with a girl, so Ant has to keep his plans a secret. And he’s not the only one in town doing that…
The snarky but empathetic insights of the narrator make Ant a believable, likable character, inviting readers to make their own judgments as they watch Ant struggle to work out what he should do and who he should look up to. The story does not hold back from looking closely at complex topics, including broken families, addiction, and toxic masculinity. However, the humor, immersive characters, and strong sense of community make these themes accessible even to young readers, encouraging them to think and question within the safety of the pages.
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt is an enjoyable and thought-provoking book—especially for boys wondering what it takes to be a man.
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About the Author
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 and Kirkus Reviews Best Book; and the graphic novel Twins, illustrated by Shannon Wright, an NPR Best Book. Varian was born in Florence, South Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a BS in Civil Engineering. He later received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is honored to now be a member of the faculty. Varian lives outside of Austin, TX, with his family.
For more information, visit his website: https://varianjohnson.com/