Feb 262024

The Bulletin: At the prestigious Bastille Invitational, three Asian American would-be teen tennis stars vie for the title under enormous pressure to win: newbie Alice Wu, who’s anxious to show she’s worth her family’s sacrifices; Lê “Leylah” Ha, determined to prove the viability of a tennis career to her high-achieving immigrant parents; and Violetta Masuda, rising social media star, desperate to please her former champion mother. Assigned to share a room, these should-be rivals soon turn could-be friends. Past betrayals, however, cause Leylah to clash with former bestie Violetta, and as challenges mount on and off the court, each teen wrangles with personal demons, from disordered eating and a growing drug habit to self-destructive anger and overwhelming grief and guilt. The world of competitive tennis provides a wealthy, white backdrop to explore the impact of race on the pursuit of pro-career dreams, but like many a sports story, athletics are the least important part here, a supporting player to the young women’s personal crises and interpersonal drama. As the narrative volleys between the trio’s perspectives, individual stories sometimes lose traction, but as tournament action picks up, so does the pace, providing a strong finish. The girls are all eminently likable, learning that it’s okay for girls to be loud, take up space, and direct their own lives and readers will root for them to get the love, help, and wins they deserve. Give this to sports-hungry readers, but also to fans of the 2000 film Center Stage, who like their heroines vulnerable, strong-willed, and ambitious.