AJ Sass – MG Contemporary #ownvoices LGBTQ – ANA ON THE EDGE
Twelve-year-old ice skater Ana must win her next big competition to justify all the money Mom has spent on choreography and costumes. But after she meets transgender boy Hayden at the rink, her doubts about her own gender identity throw her for a loop she wasn’t expecting.
When her new choreographer wants her to portray a princess in her competition program, Ana is less than thrilled. She isn’t a frilly-dress kind of girl. Nevertheless, she’s determined not to let these feelings derail her dream of a national title after years of hard work and Mom’s many sacrifices. After befriending Hayden, Ana learns that her own pronouns might not be as fixed as the theme of her skating program. As her first big competition of the season approaches, Ana must decide whether being true to herself is worth risking everything she’s trained for, on top of letting down Mom, Hayden, and all the people who believe in her.
ANA ON THE EDGE is a middle grade contemporary #ownvoices LGBTQ story, complete at 46,000 words. It should appeal to fans of GEORGE and GRACEFULLY GRAYSON and has secondary character series potential in the spirit of Jason Reynolds’ TRACK novels. While Ana’s non-binary gender may be unfamiliar to some readers, her path to understanding and defining an intrinsic part of her identity should be relatable to many. This story offers a behind-the-scenes look into the world of competitive figure skating, alongside a depiction of queer experience that remains underrepresented in middle grade fiction.
As a non-binary, competitive skater, I draw on my own personal experiences to bring Ana’s story to life. By day, I’m a writer and editor who helps make state law and legal resources freely accessible online. By night, weekends, and absurdly early hours of the morning, I create my own fictional worlds, skate on an adult synchro team, and host weekly get-togethers for my region’s Shut Up & Write! chapter. Recently, I was awarded the Diverse New Member Scholarship from my SCBWI chapter, using a sample of ANA ON THE EDGE as part of my submission.
Thank you for the opportunity to have my initial manuscript materials reviewed.
Andrew “AJ” Sass
I stand alone at center ice. Around me, the audience is quiet. I sense my coach, Alex, but don’t turn to look. Nine judges sit in front of me, eighteen eyes eager to evaluate my every move. They’re the only people that matter right now.
Breathe in, breathe out. Shoulders down.
Dark, glossy fabric covers my white skates, part of my one-piece costume. It’s snug, but I like it way better than the glittery dresses my competitors wear. I look down, see the official US Figure Skating logo underneath layers of ice, and swallow hard. Knots unfurl in my stomach and flutter upward, even though I just chewed a ginger tab to settle my nerves.
I force my mind to go blank. I will not think about my mom sitting in the stands. I won’t allow myself to be distracted by the announcer who introduced me as ‘Miss’ and called me ‘she’ and ‘her.’ Those words don’t feel right anymore.
Did they ever?
I focus. According to Alex, this is just another competition. Easy for him to say. To me, it’s my first-ever Nationals.
The first notes of my music drum low and subtle. I aim a practiced smile at the judges before gliding forward, extending one leg behind me in a quick arabesque. Now my step sequence begins. I carve deep edges and turns across the ice in a sinuous, serpentine pattern. The ice is a little rough after five other skaters, but it doesn’t faze me. I’m used to practicing my program during busy sessions packed with plodding beginners.
Whipping past the boards, I catch sight of Alex. His arms are crossed, eyes following along as I set up my first jump, a simple double flip. It’s not the highest scoring element I’m capable of, but it’s a great way to get my feet under me at the start of my program.
It also comes right before the dastardly double axel.
I take a steady, deep breath, then vault into the air for my double flip. One, two revolutions, and I land strong, back arched, smile reaching for the highest row in the audience.
I lift my arms as the music builds.
Everything rides on this next jump.
I breathe out.