The Derby Daredevils: Tomoko Takes the Lead

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Book Review

Shy girl Tomoko skates into the spotlight in this third book in the Derby Daredevils series. She and her roller derby-loving besties—Jules, Bree, Shelly and Kensie—are heading off to Dallas for a big roller derby summer camp. They’re all excited, but Tomoko realizes that new places and new faces tend to make her pretty anxious—especially when those faces belong to kids that are kinda mean.

Plot Summary

The school year is over. Middle school friends Tomoko, Jules, Bree, Shelly and Kensie are all looking forward to a summer packed with skating, swimming, snack-eating and fun. Of course, their idea of fun is generally focused on skating, period. They’re all part of a girl’s roller derby team called the Derby Daredevils, and that’s pretty much all they want to do.

The girls even play other games while in pads and skates, just to keep improving their derby skills in creative ways. Tomoko created a skating-basketball game hybrid that she’s teaching her team, for instance. It combines the three things she loves most: skating, basketball and friends.

Yep, Tomoko, or the “Tomonater” as her friends call her on the rink, is pretty certain that this summer is gonna be great!

Just as school lets out, though, Tomoko’s dreams of summer fun in their hometown of Austin, Texas, are given an uncomfortable shake. The roller derby league coaches announce a special opportunity for the Austin-based teams to join up with a league from Dallas. They’ll all be a part of a combined summer roller derby camp!

The girls all go nuts.

Tomoko, however, is the only one who doesn’t cheer. It’s not that it wouldn’t be fun to travel to Dallas and work up some great new moves. And it’s not that she wouldn’t really enjoy the adventure with her friends. It’s just … a little nerve-racking. She’s not so great at meeting new people. In fact, the girls on the Daredevils are pretty much the first real friends Tomoko’s ever had.

You see, Tomoko has been teased a lot in the past because she’s taller and bigger than most of the girls her age. Being big is great for a roller derby player, but it makes her a target for mean-spirited kids who want to pick on somebody who’s a bit different. And if people aren’t picking on that aspect of who she is, then there’s her Asian-American background, which sometimes prompts people to say things that are almost accidentally offensive.

Years of that treatment have shaped Tomoko into the person she is: someone a little too shy, a little too awkward around strangers and not as sure of herself as she should be. 

Tomoko can’t help but wonder if this trip to Dallas will bring all her fears and feelings back to the surface again. Can she still be the good friend and leader she’s started to become? Can she be the Tomonater? Or will she find herself withdrawing into the quiet, awkward girl she had been for so long? How will she deal with new places and new, potentially mean, faces?

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

The main value system we see here is a belief in the power of friendship and family. Tomoko does indeed encounter a hurtful person and she wrestles with her insecurities and her social anxiety. But her family members do their best to support her. And her friends—once they realize she’s struggling—rally around her and help her reclaim the positive changes in her life.

Authority Roles

Tomoko’s mom and uncle are very loving. And her uncle—geeky and odd, and somewhat of an outcast in his own way—goes a long way toward encouraging her to rely on her strengths and the things she loves to work through the difficulties that face her. He also encourages Tomoko to be the leader that he senses she can be. And even though it’s not an easy haul, Tomoko does grow in her leadership abilities.

The Derby Daredevils coaches are also women of integrity who care dearly about their young charges. And once they become aware that some bullying is going on, they quickly move to do the right thing. Through their actions, the book proclaims the wisdom of stepping up and talking to adults when a problem arises in a young girl’s life.

Tomoko’s friends are also very positive examples in the course of the story. They are all young girls with their own idiosyncrasies who sometimes make slightly scatterbrained choices, but they all care for Tomoko and rush to support her when they become aware of her distress.

Profanity & Violence

No foul language here. (That said, there are some rare, mild interjections such as “shoot” and “sheesh.”)

There’s a dash of violence in the form of some roller derby play, but it’s very light. The worst of it happens when Tomoko gets elbowed several times by a bully girl. It causes her to fall to her knees in pain, but she’s not badly hurt.

There’s a little toilet humor in the mix, too. One of the girls, for instance, worries that camping will involve outhouses: “Big holes in the ground full of poop.”

Sexual Content

Tomoko notes that two of her friends (Kenzie and Brie) “like” each other. And she mentions in narration that she “found out about their crush right when the team was getting started,” but that’s the only mention or evidence of any same-sex attraction in this story.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Do you ever feel nervous about meeting new people? If so, has it kept you from speaking up or getting to know someone? What do you think you can do to help break through that feeling of shyness or awkwardness?

Do you ever think that other kids might be feeling intimidated or overly shy, too? What can you do to help them? Do you ever take some time to think of things you might have in common with a stranger? Are there ways that a group of friends can help make meeting new people easier?

What does the Bible say about the things that make us feel awkward or shy or fearful? Take a look at 2 Timothy 1:7 and Proverbs 29:25 . How do you think those scriptures might apply? Can you think of others?

Tomoko and the girls talk a little bit about “microaggressions” that can communicate small slights or something negative to others. They can be delivered intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. Have you ever heard someone do that? Has someone done that to you? What should you do in those cases?

What about bullying? What’s the smartest thing to do if someone is being a bully? What should you do if someone you know is being bullied?    

What did you like most about this book?

Additional Comments

Tomoko Takes the Lead is a nice little book that helps kids think through things like feeling shy and awkward, and the painfulness of being bullied. It’s easy to get lost and easy to feel scared, it tells us. It also raises questions about what kids should do in those kinds of circumstances. For a children’s book, that’s a lot to deal with, but it does so with an involving and easy to identify with story.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose

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