Today we’re pleased to reveal an exclusive excerpt from MG novel Ana of the Edge by A. J. Sass, which publishes on October 20, 2020. WNDB will also feature a Q&A with the author on the blog soon!
Twelve-year-old Ana-Marie Jin, the reigning US Juvenile figure skating champion, is not a frilly dress kind of kid. So, when Ana learns that next season’s program will be princess themed, doubt forms fast. Still, Ana tries to focus on training and putting together a stellar routine worthy of national success.
Once Ana meets Hayden, a transgender boy new to the rink, thoughts about the princess program and gender identity begin to take center stage. And when Hayden mistakes Ana for a boy, Ana doesn’t correct him and finds comfort in this boyish identity when he’s around. As their friendship develops, Ana realizes that it’s tricky juggling two different identities on one slippery sheet of ice. And with a major competition approaching, Ana must decide whether telling everyone the truth is worth risking years of hard work and sacrifice.
Sunlight glimmers across the ice through the San Francisco rink’s floor-to-ceiling windows. I squint, trying to find my best friend, Tamar. She’s on the far side of the rink, working on spiral positions, just like I’m supposed to be doing. I scan the ice, making sure Alex is nowhere in sight, then wave her over. She skids to a scratchy stop in front of me, brown curls bouncing in her loose ponytail.
Her skin is usually pale, but right now it’s flushed pink from the cold rink air. She twirls her index finger, brows raised. “You first.”
“I’m always first,” I shoot back, but Tamar doesn’t budge.
We’re supposed to be practicing Moves in the Field— exercises that focus on power, body alignment, and edge control—but there’s no one around to call us out for goofing off. Also, I never back down from a challenge. Swizzling a few feet away from Tamar to make sure my sharp blades don’t nick her, I raise both arms. I plant one toe in the ice, reach down, and perform a perfect cartwheel. Tamar applauds, and I bow like I’ve just skated my winning program at Nationals.
“Ana!” Alex calls.
I freeze mid-bow. Tamar’s eyes dart past me, up to Alex in the viewing stands. He’s right next to my mom.
Alex beckons to me. I look at Tamar for help, but she’s zipped away, back to her corner of the rink.
I grab my stuff and slide on my blade guards at the edge of the ice, then open my phone to the calendar app Mom and I share. There’s nothing about her visiting the rink over lunch today. She should definitely still be at work.
I climb the metal steps up to the stands. Mom pats the seat next to her and I sit down, waiting for her or Alex to lecture me about my cartwheel. I fiddle with my hair, trying to tuck it behind my ear. The strands are a little too short to stay put.
Shoulders tense, I glance toward the ice, but Tamar’s focused on twizzles. They’re supposed to look like mini–traveling spins, and most of hers do—until the last set. She hits her toe picks and loses her balance.
Alex clears his throat to get my attention. “Your mom and I wanted to discuss some things now that the new season is fast approaching. You’ve been showing progress all spring during the off-season, learning harder jumps and getting more consistent. And of course, we’re both proud of how you performed at Nationals a few months ago.”
Relaxing a little, I look between them. It doesn’t seem like I’m going to get in trouble for my cartwheel after all.
“You’ll definitely be moving up a level next season,” Alex continues. “You’ve got the skills to be competitive as an Intermediate lady.”
Competition announcers always call Juvenile skaters boys and girls, then it switches to ladies and men starting at Intermediate. I already knew this, but it still sounds weird.
“Even so, this will be a big leap for you. You only needed a free-skate program in Juvenile, but Intermediate also requires a short program, with very specific jump and spin requirements.”
I nod to show I’m still following along.
“The plan is to convert your Juvenile free skate to an Intermediate short program. It’s a real showstopper the way you perform it.”
My chest swells at the thought of performing my program in front of a huge crowd again, and I share a look with Mom. The corners of her eyes crinkle, just like at Nationals.
“You’re also going to work with a choreographer to create an Intermediate free-skate program so it has a different feel and layout. The judges will want to see your range as a performer.”
My eyes widen. Alex has always been the one to choose my programs and map out where the steps, jumps, and spins will go. But all the best skaters have choreographers.
“Lastly, we’ve decided to move your home base to Oakland. Their management team has been asking me to coach there on a more full-time basis for quite some time, as you know.”
“Plus, our offer was just accepted on a house in Temescal.”
“That’s a great neighborhood,” Mom says. “I know you and Myles have been searching for a new house for a while. Congratulations.”
“Congratulations,” I echo.
“Thanks.” Alex turns to me. “I’ll still be your main coach. There are changes going into effect next season that we’ll need to keep on top of. For example, in the past, medaling first at Regionals and then at Sectionals would qualify you to compete at Nationals—but starting this season, Nationals has been cut for all but the highest levels. Instead, top Intermediate skaters will attend a training camp to build skills and determine eligibility for international competitions down the road.” No more Nationals? I listen carefully, trying to memorize as much of this new information as possible. “Both your mom and I want to make sure you have room to grow. Oakland has two rinks. No more competing for ice with the hockey teams, which should give you plenty of practice time to get your skills even more consistent for Intermediate. Your mom has also signed you up for some great office stretching and dance classes.”
“For real?” I look at Mom. She nods again, and I can hardly believe it.
“For real,” Alex confirms. “You’ll start your new training schedule next week. How’s that sound?”
“It sounds great. Like a dream come true, actually.”
Beaming, I glance back toward the ice, first to the floor-to-ceiling windows, then to where Tamar’s practicing twizzles across a patch of sunlit ice. My hands tingle as I imagine telling her everything.
“I’m glad you’re excited.” Alex stands and looks down at me, one eyebrow arched as his expression gets serious. “Now, back to work on your Moves in the Field. No more cartwheels. Last time I checked, you were a figure skater, not a gymnast.”
A. J. Sass is a writer, editor, and occasional mentor. A long-time figure skater, he has passed his U.S. Figure Skating Senior Moves in the Field and Free Skate tests, medaled twice at the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, and currently dabbles in ice dance. When he’s not exploring the world as much as possible, A. J. lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs. Ana on the Edge is his first novel.