Seventeen-year-old Alonda is a straight-A student who never gets in trouble and does whatever her strict, overprotective guardian, Teresa, asks of her—all while keeping her dreams locked up tight inside. But when the sweltering June heat has her fleeing to the window of her Coney Island apartment in search of a cool breeze, Alonda spots something that sends those dreams tumbling out into the open: four teens practicing professional wrestling on the playground below.
It takes Alonda a week to work up the nerve, but she introduces herself to the ragtag group, and soon she’s joining them. In between her chores and her new job at a nearby amusement park, Alonda cuts promos (the speeches that establish characters and the personal stakes of matches), perfects hip tosses and hurricaranas and forms deep friendships with King, Lexi, Spider and Pretzel. But figuring out her own wrestling persona, the titular Alondra, is harder, because Alonda isn’t sure what she wants. Is it to wrestle in front of a crowd of adoring fans? Is it doing what her mother, who died when Alonda was 7, would have wanted? Is it to pursue her attraction to King, the handsome self-proclaimed antihero of their group, or her feelings for Lexi, the artistic in-ring superhero?
Award-winning playwright Gina Femia’s first YA novel, Alondra, is a fast-paced, queer homage to summer in Brooklyn. Alonda and her band of hardworking misfit wrestlers are well-crafted and grounded, and Femia captures their close connections as she places them in dramatic yet familiar situations: making art, fighting with parents and caregivers, deciding what college to attend and exploring who they could be if they allowed themselves to be anything. Readers will yell, cringe and cheer as Alonda finds her bisexuality and her voice, as her friends find their footing as a troupe and as her guardian, Teresa, finds self-confidence after years of shouldering her burdens alone.
Alondra is set in 2015, which prevents Femia from referencing the numerous female professional wrestlers who achieved widespread popularity after shifts in the industry, beginning in 2016, resulted in greater support of female talent. Instead, readers will find mentions of figures such as John Cena, Eddie Guerrero and AJ Lee, which may make the novel feel dated for teens deep in the wrestling fandom. However, Alonda’s love for wrestling’s technical aspects, from the way her friends edit their video packages to the bruises she earns while squaring up with Lexi, shines through and acts as the perfect backdrop for her internal struggles with identity.
Like the best professional wrestling performances, Alondra is a heartfelt story that provides a realistic yet blissful experience.