Book Review: Martin McLean, Middle School Queen
Author: Alyssa Zaczek
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Rating: 3 stars
Read: September 2020
Seventh-grader Martin McLean has always been surrounded by people who can express themselves. But Martin can only find the right words when he’s answering a problem at a Mathletes competition–until his tío introduces him to the world of drag. In a swirl of sequins and stilettos, Martin creates his fabulous drag queen alter ego, Lottie León. As Lottie, he is braver than he’s ever been; but as Martin, he doesn’t have the guts to tell anyone outside of his family about her. When Martin discovers that his first-ever drag show is the same night as the most important Mathletes tournament, he realizes that he can only pull off both appearances by revealing his true self to his friends–and channeling his inner drag superstar.Sterling Children’s Books
Martin McLean, Middle School Queen by Alyssa Zaczek is a really sweet middle grade novel about Martin, who loves his friends, his Mathletes team, and his family. His Tío Billy visits and introduces him to the world of drag, and introvert Martin knows that he wants to perform onstage. His alter ego, Lottie León, is going to perform at an upcoming all-ages night, but quickly realizes it’s the same night as the Mathletes competition!
I mostly like and support this book because I’m glad it exists. I think it’s really important that topics such as gender expression, drag culture, and healthy communication in relationships are all wrapped up in this fun, accessible book for younger people. (“Younger people” god, when did I get so old?!) There are candid and educational conversations about pronouns, consent, and acceptance that I have not seen in very many middle grade books. I hope that this book finds its way into school libraries and the hands of kids who need to read an affirming story about expressing yourself, even when you’re still exploring who you are.
Martin McLean is not an Own Voices book. It is written by a white woman, so if that’s absolutely not something you’re into reading, skip this one. I was a little hesitant to read this book because of that, but I personally found this story to be charming. None of the Spanish is cringe. I think that concepts of gender expression, tolerance, and approaching new topics you don’t know about are very well done for younger readers. Alyssa Zaczek had many sensitivity readers and mentors while writing this book.
Then again, I am also a white lady, sooo…my opinion isn’t that important. But, I figured that a positive review of this book can help bring exposure to the story. Maybe, this book can even end up in the hands of a student who wants or needs to read a story of self-discovery, inclusion, and acceptance.
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