It's the dog days of summer... well, the puppy days, anyway, and sports are what's on the telly. Sports are what's on the page, too. Despite my complete-klutz status, I love a good sports novel and this fab one comes to us from Canada (what IS IT with awesome Canadian books lately??)'s Lorimer Press. While not a huge fan of photographic covers, when I do like them, it's because they're using models to depict diversity and sass - and boy, there's a lot of sass going on in this one... as befits the captain of the Podium Sports Academy girls basketball team. This is the sixth in the Podium Academy series, which is a high action series with a lot of drama and heart. This fast-paced story has a short narrative arc, but gives us a month-in-the-life of the troubled and cocky Allie McLean.
Concerning Character: Allie's world is a round, orange ball. She lives, breathes and eats basketball, and when the novel opens, she's having the game of her life -- Of. Her. Life. She beats her personal best for overall scoring, and it's the last game of Parent's Weekend. Her shots are brilliant -- all net! -- and the crowd goes wild. Too bad there's nobody with whom she can celebrate -- not her mother or her sister, back in Halifax, not even her billet-mother, Abigail, the cool and emotionless housemother with whom she stays while she's attending Podium Sports Academy. She gives her best friend, Carrie, the rose that should have gone to her mother, and tries to suck it up. It doesn't matter that nobody is there to support her. Allie has basketball. And, in that spherical round bit of rubber, she has EVERYTHING. Right?
But nothing is that simple. Everything is just...weird, and Allie's a bundle of frustrations. First up, her good friend Parmita, who just came out, is acting off. Carrie says Parm is into Allie -- but she can't be. Parm knows Allie's straight, and crushing on Allie would ruin their friendship and make things awkward. And anyway, Jonathon, one of the boys on crew, is super-hot, and he's definitely into Allie, and right now, they're kind of a thing -- even to the point where Allie's thinking he might be The One, and she might not graduate a virgin after all. Parm's critical of Allie's string of guys - one after the other, like beads on a chain, but Allie doesn't want to get all attached and emo, like her mother. After her parents separated, Allie's mother's first boyfriend completely scammed her out of he life savings. How dumb! Allie's not going to be like that. Her scholarship to Podium -- where she's earned a full ride to Duke University on a sports scholarship - is nothing less than a perfect save. If Allie had to depend on her mother to take care of things, she'd be no one, going nowhere. As it is, Allie spent too much time cooking, cleaning and taking care of her two younger sisters. She's been relieved and happy to be back at Podium... but now it seems like fifteen-year-old Kat doesn't need her anymore.
Maybe Allie just won't go home. After all, Jonothan's family is super nice -- his mother texts Allie all the time, just like she's her real Mom. Maybe Allie will add one more thing to her life: basketball, and Jonathon. Maybe, with her family-away-from-home at Podium, that's all she needs... But, if stuff goes down with Jonathon AND her friends at Podium AND her game, what's Allie got left? Can she survive waking up from her hoop dreams?
Critical Reader Reaction: Did I mention that this novel had a lot of drama? Cause it does, as in, "DRA-MA!" in the most sing-songy tone you can say it, which, translated, means "Wow, this novel has some soap opera-esque overtones..." which of course makes it so, so fun. High school drama FTW! And it's the kind of drama which plays well for either boys or girls -- there's a good old brawl on the basketball court, there's relationship drama and family stuff. All good. I found myself, after finishing it, wondering if Parm is ever going to get her courage together again and ask someone else out, if Carrie's going to be okay in Vegas, and if Allie will continue to try and hide the truth about her less-than-perfect family.
Like all the best school stories, this novel plunges you into the quickly moving current of a fully peopled world, full of relationships and backgrounds that you may not know. Though this book is sixth in a series, it read easily and well as a stand-alone, and it's diverse cast flowed together organically. Though it's clearly indicated that Allie has African ancestry - can't miss that mop of Afro - it's not an issue or a problem that shapes the narrative. Okay, so Jonathon's blonde and Allie's not -- and, who cares? Their chemistry is neither complicated nor enhanced by color -- it's not even mentioned, which is kind of startling, but perhaps reflects a Canadian point of view. Either way, I heartily recommend this series to those looking for realistic, high concept, bursting-with-narrative-drama novels with short, easy to digest chapters and a lot of heart.
This book came to me courtesy of Lorimer Press. You can find HOOP DREAMS by LORNA SCHULTZ NICHOLSON online, or at an independent bookstore near you!