That’s Debatable by Jen Doll


That’s Debatable

by Jen Doll

We know how much pushback there is when girls want to compete in a traditionally male sport, but what are the dynamics in a non-sport high school activity that is, in theory, coed?

Meet Millicent Chalmers, a high school senior in Alabama. Despite the toxic masculinity so prevalent at debate competitions, she has managed to maintain her composure sufficiently to win the state competition three times in a row. If she wins this year, it will garner her a four-year scholarship. Given that she has one parent, her mother who is an RN and often works double shifts to keep them afloat, that scholarship is her brass ring. She’s learned to be cool and focused, able to tear apart opponents’ arguments on a regular basis.

Then there’s Taggart Strong, almost a complete opposite. His family lacks for nothing, but he has trouble with the concept of debating in support of an issue he finds morally wrong. That mindset drives his best friend and captain of the debate team crazy. It also frustrates his parents, who see him as being on track to go to college and become a lawyer like his father. Tag, however, loves to cook, and the inherent satisfaction in creating new dishes is a much stronger lure than college, but how to get that across to Mom and Dad?

When there’s what at first seems to be a school shooter situation during a debate tournament, Millicent freezes, but Tag responds by pulling her into a storage closet where they remain for nearly an hour. It’s the beginning of big changes for both of them. I’ll leave it to you to discover them by reading the book, but will say they involve some pretty nasty behaviors toward Millicent, a gradual relaxing on both their parts toward the iron straight paths they see themselves on, and plenty of great information about the whole debate process. In sum, it’s a smart, intriguing look at contemporary challenges teens face and will make many of them do some self-reflection.

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