Friday, May 6, 2011

Sweet Turnaround J by P.V. Beck

Book: Sweet Turnaround J
Author: P.V. Beck 
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing

This is Part 2 in my, “I’m in a giant, sucking women’s basketball vacuum” series.

In 1996, Madeleine Blais wrote the nonfiction basketball classic, In These Girls Hope is a Muscle.  Her story followed a Massachusetts high school basketball team with great promise, but a history of not going all the way.  At the time, there were two schools of thought regarding her book:  On one side she was pinged mightily for exaggerating gender issues and gushing sentimentality; but on the other side she was lauded as the author who almost single handedly reduced the phrase “female athlete” to the more apropos “athlete”.

About damn time the world figured THAT out!

Ms. Beck’s 2009 basketball classic, Sweet Turnaround J, reminded me in sooo many ways of the Blais book. That’s not a knock against the author, the subject, or the story; it’s just something that occurred to me.  As many similarities as there were, I can also point out contrasts.

Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, then?  Fantastic idea, I think I will.

In the Blias book, we are introduced to a team that, for the most part, is a single, solitary unit that has the one goal of winning.  They are typical, but exceptional high school girls.  They have trials and triumphs.  They laugh, cry, struggle with their school work, love lives, and families.  They get sick, hurt, and mad.  And, they find ways to work through problems and stay focused on their goal: The State Championship.

As with most any high school team, every year a few players leave and a few new ones join.  In Sweet Turnaround J, though, we see our narrator, Janey Holmes, returning from playing club ball in California and finding out that her small school, with what was a successful team, closed.  In its place, she finds not just a new high school, but one that inexplicably combines her old school with a bigger school that didn’t have much of a ball team. 

Instead of her respectful, winning coach, Janie and her old teammates are introduced to the angry, ill-prepared, and resentful “Kelly the Belly”.  

For the record, this part of the book hit home like a tidal wave.  My “Kelly the Belly” was a despicable, psychotic, mind-f^*k of a woman not so lovingly nicknamed, “The Trog”.  Yes, as in troglodyte.   At 13, she was my first introduction to a living, breathing dyke, and it almost ruined it for me . . . almost.  Thank God for teenage hormones, and high school basketball crushes!!!!

Thankfully, Kelly the Belly and the creepy JV coach are dismissed after several girls, including Janey, are kicked off the team and the parents finally get involved.  Then, in walks Coach Berro, a former player who has a vested interest in the success of the team.  She whips the girls into shape, and slowly teaches discipline, basketball, trust, and respect.

Game-by-game, the girls improve, both as individual players and as a team.  They overcome injury, academic problems, poor decision-making, and teenage love.  While we don’t see if the girls make it all the way to the State Championship, or whether any of them get named to the All-State Team, we do see them work to overcome the odds and the naysayers.

So, um, did you like the book or what?

Well, frankly, I loved the book.  I’ve read it twice, and can’t really find much that wasn’t well conceived, well constructed, or well considered.  Ms. Beck is patient with the story and her characters.  We get to know Janey and most of her family, as well as an entire basketball team, a few parents, and the Coach.  This is a huge list of characters, but by the end, we know each of them well.

Which is worthy of much gratitude and genuflecting, in my humble opinion.

Ms. Beck was able to portray the hopes, fears, confusions, and thought processes of teenage girls with amazing precision.  She was also able to show us adults with strengths, flaws, and insecurities.  She took special care in presenting the appropriate music, vocabulary, and intricate relationships of the young women.  And, introduced gay and straight; outgoing and introverted; religious and secular; black, white, Native American, Latina, and mixed characters.  Some of the girls came from broken homes and others from solid homes.  One girl lost her parents.  Another has an abusive father.  Janey has a mother that is a functional alcoholic.

I always feel a little weird when I read a book that features lesbian teenagers. Don’t get me wrong; I think it is a MUST that girls and young women have these resources as they’re learning who they are and that they’re not alone.  Still, as an adult, I don’t want too much detail about what goes on between the sheets.  Thankfully, Ms. Beck addressed the burgeoning love affair between Janey and Alejo with supreme skill, good taste, and respect.  When they ‘kissed and everything’, I knew what likely happened, I was so, so, sooooo happy for them, but I didn’t feel like a 44 year-old letch. 

Thank you for that, by the way!

Now, since I’ve yet to come across a perfect book, I can only think of two things in Sweet Turnaround J that needed work:

(1)  Did we really need the brother, Noam, who is out on a boat in the Pacific?  He didn’t really add anything to the story or the family dynamic; and
(2)  Janey called her mom out on her drinking habits, and mom finally figures out that Janie is really good at basketball and becomes more involved with her daughter.  However, after Janey calls her mom on the drinking about halfway through the book, it’s never mentioned again.  Did mom change?  Not a big point, but so much was made early in the book about it, I just kept wondering.

Really, Salem, that’s all you can come up with???  Yup.


Bottom line on Sweet Turnaround J – this was a book that needed to be written.  Ms. Beck has produced an amazing concept, well-rounded and complex, yet tight story, and ultimately a great read.  Writing about teens, especially if you’re not one, can be a task that goes horribly wrong very quickly.  Make no mistake, it didn’t.  By the end of the book, I was one of the players, part of their family, and in the stands screaming at the top of my lungs.    Everything about this book is good, and if I were a coach, I’d make it required reading, before the first liner was ever run, for my team.  Whether they were in high school, college, or the pros.

On the Rainbow Scale, Sweet Turnaround J gets a 5.7 out of 6, because this Sweet Turnaround J hit nothin’ but net.

As an added feature, Ms. Beck has a website for the book, that includes some of the great music featured in the story, as well as a few excellent basketball-related links.  When you get a chance, take a few minutes to drop into 

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