There’s nothing twelve-year-old Penny Clarke loves more than climbing onto a squid and jetting through the ocean at top speed. In Penny’s near-future California of rising sea levels and strange new technologies, squid racing is as common as horse racing was back in the 20th century. It’s also the only thing Penny is good at, and she plans to make it her life—until her parents decide that the sport is too dangerous, and ban her from the squid stables. Instead, they expect Penny to focus on school, where she’s failing both her classes and her social life—the other kids all think squid racing is for losers.
But nothing can keep Penny away from her passion, and one night she sneaks an illicit ride on a squid named Heart Set Free. He’s so moody his owners plan to turn him into calamari steaks, but with Penny on his back he’s a speed demon. Soon the two of them are pitted in fierce competition against California’s fastest squid and their unscrupulous jockeys, fighting to qualify for the International Kids on Squid race with its coveted InKS trophy. Penny’s hoping she’ll be able to get her grades up, keep her parents happy and even make a friend or two on her way to the InKS. But to stand a chance of winning the race—or even of reaching the finish line alive—Penny and Heart will need to learn to communicate in a way no one has ever thought possible.
All the thrills and spills of international squid racing come alive in marine biologist Danna Staaf’s remarkable middle-grade debut. In the best tradition of children’s sports stories, HEART SET FREE is a gripping tale of passion, determination and true friendship (human and non-human). It’s a 22nd-century National Velvet—with squid.