REVIEW: Keeping Pace by Laurie Morrison

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Laurie Morrison’s Keeping Pace is a poignant middle-grade novel about friends-turned-rivals training for a half-marathon—and rethinking what it means to win and what they mean to each other.

Grace has been working for years to beat her former friend Jonah Perkins’s GPA so she can be named top scholar of the eighth grade. But when Jonah beats her for the title, it feels like none of Grace’s academic accomplishments have really mattered. They weren’t enough to win—or to impress her dad. And then the wide, empty summer looms. With nothing planned and no more goals or checklists, she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be working toward.

Eager for something to occupy her days, Grace signs up for a half-marathon race that she and Jonah used to talk about running together. Jonah’s running it, too. Maybe if she can beat Jonah on race day, she’ll feel OK again. But as she begins training with Jonah and checking off a new list of summer goals, she starts to question what—and who—really matters to her. Is winning at all costs really worth it?

Engaging and heartfelt, Keeping Pace is about wanting to win at all costs—and having to learn how to fail.

CW – divorced parents, FMC’s neglectful father, past death of MMC’s father

Dear Ms. Morrison, 

This is a little different from the usual middle grade books I’ve chosen to read. Usually there’s some fantasy and a cat in those stories but I liked the idea of reading something a little more normal and relatable. 

Grace is very goal focused. She has certain ways she wants to do things, certain rituals she follows, and at times she’s not that good in her relationships with others. When she misses out on getting the highest scholar award for her eighth grade class, what others might see as a great achievement – coming in second by half a point – to her feels like failure. Then she learns that her former best friend – who beat her out for the award – will be going to a different high school next year, Grace feels even more deflated as now she won’t be able to come back and overcome her loss. This is it. It’s over.

Or is it? Jonah mentions signing up for a race at the end of the summer and with nothing else planned, Grace decides to turn her enjoyment of jogging with her sister into another contest. She and Jonah used to be friends until he pulled away after the death of his father. If she trains hard, maybe she can beat him in the race. But if she opens herself to trying some new things, maybe they can work out what happened and possibly be more than friends. 

There are a lot of other things in the book that give Grace and Jonah some depth. Her parents are now divorced and she and her sister’s relationship with their father is strained due to his work. Grace is secretly worried about her transition to high school as there will be a lot of other smart kids there from other schools. Maybe she won’t be the smartest anymore as she is used to being. Maybe her PhD father won’t be as proud of her. Since her scholastic standing is basically her identity, I can see why she’s so razor focused on all of these issues.     

Grace and Jonah had been best friends for years but three years ago his father suddenly died and Jonah withdrew from their friendship. Now instead of pushing each other to be supportive, they are arch rivals. Grace’s sister, who might be slower to learn something but who keeps trying until she masters it, and their cousin Avery are determined that Grace isn’t just going to sit all summer and “help” her come up with a list of goals. Some of them are aimed at pushing Grace a little out of her comfort zone but she’s the one who tosses in completing the half-marathon. She remembers how fun it was when she and Jonah helped at one years ago. 

Another thing she does is babysit her father’s new girlfriend’s young son. Brie doesn’t want Teddy to be praised the way that Grace thinks is normal which leads to Grace having to rethink everything she’s used to about encouragement. She also begins to see her father in a new light and worries about the changing friend dynamics for high school with her friend group and cousin Avery.

I could see where most of the points of the book were being made but that’s probably older me with years more life experience looking (way) back to my own middle school days. I don’t think that these lessons were overly emphasized too much to Make. Sure. I. Got. Them. On the other hand, I think that by the end of the book, teen readers will be able to grasp what’s important without feeling lectured or condescended to. The book finishes with some things still open-ended but with a very positive feel. B  

~Jayne

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Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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