Tales of an Inland Empire Girl

Image of the book cover of "Tales of an Inland Empire Girl" set against a prickly pear cactus.
Another book that reminds me of the beauty of a cactus–prickly for good reason, yet still blooming.

“I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth, the pink kind you get at Dairy Queen.” 

Adversity as Environment

Tales of an Inland Empire Girl is a memoir told in a series of snapshots of growing up in the IE in Southern California, an area that wealthier, coastal Californians often deride. It’s the story of loving but dysfunctional parents, of being one of a pair of ‘Wonder Twins’ who use their superpowers to defeat the forces of disruption and poverty. However, the author’s journey to successful lawyer and finally to punk rock deputy public defender progresses along a convoluted path, one that backtracks in her high school years.   

Much of Mantz’s memoir focuses on the obstacles she has to overcome as a child and then adolescent, so it’s a positive book for teen readers, some of whom may be contending with similar issues. Her love of punk rock helps her to get through some of her worst moments and encourages her to restart her life when it seems she will be little more than a high school dropout.

Mantz grows up in the IE city of Ontario, in the poorer south side, with an identical twin and a younger sister. Of this she says, “Ontario is known as the apex of the Inland Empire (“the IE”), which is like being called King Shit on Turd Island.”

Another image of a prickly pear cactus with the book "Tales of an Inland Empire Girl." The blossoms here are red.
Prickly pear cactus with red blossoms.

Love and Dysfunction

Her parents are hardworking, but deeply stressed. “Mom is like two different characters. If this were a fairy tale, she would play both roles, the wicked stepmother and the fairy godmother.” Her mom is frequently screaming at her kids or her husband, whom she sometimes threatens to leave. None of this is without cause. Her husband is an alcoholic. Her oldest child, a boy who was deaf, was hit by a car and killed years earlier. She works two jobs, is a waitress who is always on her feet. When she is gone, her kids, particularly the twins, create havoc. During one unsupervised afternoon, Mantz’ twin Jackie starts a fire, destroying the family’s best chair and the curtains their mother had saved for months to buy.  

The poverty in their family is intergenerational. As a child, Mantz’s father lived in an orphanage for a few years because his parents didn’t have the money to raise him. And while her parents have their own house early on, they lose it when her father makes a bad investment in a dive bar. They move into a condo from which they are later evicted.

Wonder Twins

Even in kindergarten, Mantz wants to be called Lynda, after the actress Lynda Carter, who plays Wonder Woman and is half Mexican and half white, just as Mantz is. Both she and her twin sister roleplay ‘Wonder Twins.’ As they grow into adolescence, the twin Jackie will become the fighter. And while Jackie graduates from high school, Mantz sits under the bleachers and cries. Though she had been a very good student for most of her high school career, she lost interest.

By the time Mantz is a high school upperclassmen, she has come to the conclusion that ”what Mom doesn’t understand, and will never understand, is that if life means working and fighting and hating each other and then waking up every day to do it again, I don’t want any of it. I just want to dance and listen to music and have fun. … If a ‘life’ is what my parents have, I would rather be dead.” She ditches school, goes to keg parties, throws her own keger and causes her family to be evicted again. “The worst part is I never made a conscious decision to drop out. Instead, it was just one small decision after another that added up to me becoming a dropout. … I remember Mom saying there was no money for college. I had no idea about student loans. I just gave up. … It was easier to sleep all day than trying to make my way through the darkness.”

image of a blooming prickly pear cactus
Prickly pear cactus bloom into a sort of candelabra, which makes me think of light in difficult places.

Love and Clarity

Fortunately, life is not all sad or depressing. There are good times in the Mantz family including a vacation to Flintstones Land, trips to Huntington Beach, lots of music and good books. There are also many of the kind of stories that aren’t funny at the time, but that the family can look back on and laugh about. And finally, there is Mantz’ realization that her own adult success and happiness are possible.

High School Housekeeping: Mantz went to high school at a campus where I was the teacher librarian in two stints totaling twenty-five years, so I was interested in her story. (She did not go to the school at the same time I worked there.) While this is an adult memoir (not classified as YA), so much of it is about a childhood in a loving but very dysfunctional family that it is a very good fit for teens. It’s hopeful and shows that even when one feels like a failure as a teen, a brighter future is entirely possible. I recently reviewed a chapbook Mantz wrote here. It details how she found her calling in life as a public defender and advocate for the mentally ill. 

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Girl Made of Stars

Image of book cover of Girl Made of Stars alongside a ceramic tile with an abstract design and three votive candles.
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Realistic Portrayal of Trauma

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake is a realistic portrayal of how people react to learning about the rape of a classmate. Lately, I’ve been seeking realistic fiction dealing with teen trauma and the effect it has not only on the direct victims but on the people who love them as well. While this novel was published a few years back, I only recently found it. 

Mara narrates the story of her twin brother, Owen, being accused of rape by his girlfriend, who also happened to be one of Mara’s best friends. She wonders how it is possible that her beloved brother could do such a thing, but feels the truth of Hannah’s story. She wishes she could work through it with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie, who seems to have moved on to another relationship.

Keeping Secrets and Telling Truths

Compounding her feelings is Mara’s own trauma from an experience she has kept a secret and the fact that her mom, who is proud of her feminism and activism, automatically assumes that Hannah has made some sort of mistake in saying that Owen raped her. 

Students at the high school line up in Team Hannah or Team Owen. Hannah is the victim of slut shaming when she returns to classes. Everyone has to confront questions of sexual assault, consent, victim blaming, and betrayal by trusted adults. 

Still, Girl Made of Stars ends hopefully. And hope is another thing I’m seeking in realistic YA fiction. 

High School Housekeeping: Girl Made of Stars is a good book for high school students. The characters work through honest discussions of difficult topics. That’s something that teens need.

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Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail

Three Young Women on the John Muir Trail

As a college graduation gift to themselves, the author, Suzanne Roberts, and her friend Erika decide to hike the John Muir Trail. They cover the 211 miles from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite, a 28-day trip for the women. Roberts is struggling with her feelings about her alcoholic father and what her post-college future will bring. While thoughts on resolving these issues may have helped launch the month-long backpacking trip, I think one of the most important lessons here is Roberts’ evolving understanding of the male gaze and how powerful it is for young women to be able to move outside of it. 

Before Erika and Suzanne leave for their trip, Suzanne invites a third friend, Dionne, along. She knows that Dionne suffers with bulimia but believes the trip will help her. She doesn’t tell Erika about the issue, thinking Erika will not want Dionne (a weak link) on the trip. 

The Male Gaze

While Erika is a strong, experienced hiker, Suzanne is middling—and carrying a far too heavy backpack—while Dionne is new to the experience. The three move at varying speeds. They pack a minimum of food, not accounting for possible obstacles to their daily mileage goals, such as rain. After hiking with two men—one known and one stranger—and sharing their food with the two, the women’s rations quickly diminish. Having placed others’ needs before their own, they are completely out of food in the last days before they arrive at their food drop off. Thankfully, kind strangers give them a few meals. 

The stranger among them feels a bit scary to the author and the reader will likely find him so as he plays a game of twenty questions asking Roberts, “How would you like to die?” when they are separated from the group. She tries to think of an answer that is in no way related to ‘falling off a mountain.’ 

Friendship and Connection

The three personalities of the young women clash, and they sometimes bicker. Erika is focused and always looking to chalk up the completion of her goals. Suzanne lives more in the moment. She often writes and draws in her journal and likes to relate her experiences to those of John Muir and how he saw this wilderness. She often quotes him. Dionne is constantly contending with her bulimia and finds it easier to be on the trail, where there is no extra food, than in civilization with its temptations. 

A month of backpacking is a long time. Besides issues with food rations, the women have a few run-ins with bears, some terrible weather, and injuries ranging from foot blisters to bad knees. But they are most alive to their experiences when they manage to shuck off the males and go it alone. This is particularly important to the author who admits to always seeking male attention. (She tells some funny lies on the trail to get male approval.) 

“I felt grateful that Jesse left when he did and that we didn’t end up hiking the rest of the trail with him or even Mark. Without them we have come to rely on each other and on ourselves. Luck and circumstance provided the chance to find our ‘girl power.’ We found our connection to each other or place within the wilderness.”

“The end of our trip was in sight; the next day we would be back in the world of cars and freeways, buildings and beds. Before, I had counted the days until a shower or a chocolate shake. Now I was sad to see the end. I had proven to myself that I could do it, which meant that I would always be able to look back on this trip whenever faced with a difficult thing, no matter what it was. I would remember that if I did it yesterday, I could do it today.”

The Female Gaze

Alone, the women have intimate conversations and tell each other their truths. By the time they have been on the trail for four weeks, the author no longer worries about her appearance or her thoughts in front of men. Dionne speaks openly of her eating disorder and finds it therapeutic. Erika comes to appreciate the company of the other two. All three see their experience and the wilderness itself through the female gaze. And that is the most powerful aspect of the journey.

“The end of our trip was in sight; the next day we would be back in the world of cars and freeways, buildings and beds. Before, I had counted the days until a shower or a chocolate shake. Now I was sad to see the end. I had proven to myself that I could do it, which meant that I would always be able to look back on this trip whenever faced with a difficult thing, no matter what it was. I would remember that if I did it yesterday, I could do it today.”

The book is organized in a chapter for each day on the trail. Each begins with a quote from John Muir. The reader can see what Muir found in the wilderness and then what Roberts found. Near the end of the memoir, Roberts realizes, in Yosemite, that “love for this place” connects her to her father, who has been mapping each day of her trip. She has a new appreciation for what is good in him.

A Good Book for High School Age Girls

HIgh school housekeeping: when I was a teen, I did a lot of backpacking, including on some of the same trails Roberts discusses in Almost Somewhere. Mostly, I was with Girl Scouts, so other than a male leader, who was sometimes with us, I was beyond the male gaze. These were among the most formative experiences of my teen years. I wish every girl had such an opportunity. The physical exertion, the beauty of the natural world, the long days without meeting other people, and the ‘I-Thou’ sense of a creator and creation were all important. Roberts captures all of these beautifully in Almost Somewhere. It’s a good memoir for teen girls, those who are seeking examples of empowerment. (Side note: I have had a complaint that I recommend books for teens that are not suitable for eleven year olds. Honestly, eleven year olds are not teens. However, I will mention here that I don’t think this is a book for children because the hikers do a couple of typically adult things on the trail that speak to more mature readers. But generally they backpack, admire nature, and become strong.) 

Almost Somewhere is a good book for teen girls, a chance to see how important relying on themselves can be. A chance to see an example of young women re-forming themselves. 

Note: I’ve been working on reviewing books which school librarians would not typically see in review journals, but are good choices for teens. 

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Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender: How I Became a Punk Rock Lawyer

I’ve been reading a series of chapbooks from Bamboo Dart Press because I like the idea of quick, short form books. When I opened Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender, I had a nice surprise. The author, Juanita E. Mantz, attended a high school where I worked as the school librarian for many years (though not at the same time). Having a particular interest in Tiger alumni, I happily read about her journey from high school dropout to lawyer and advocate for the indigent and mentally ill.

From Ruin to Success

This 55-page memoir opens on graduation day, 1989. The author’s twin sister is graduating. However, Mantz is crying behind the bleachers, having gone from gifted classes, swim team, and yearbook, from “goody-two-shoes to punk rock high school dropout. It only took me months to ruin my life.”

Happily, Mantz’ life is not ruined. “I decided at that moment, under the stinky bleachers, that I wanted to live. . . . To prove myself to everyone who gave up on me. . . . I just need[ed] a plan.”

Though it takes years of hard work at jobs that keep her on her feet for long hours, Mantz eventually graduates magna cum laude in English literature from UC Riverside. From there she goes on to law school at USC.

“Ironically enough, being a high school dropout is my magic wand. My history is what makes me a great deputy public defender. I have been where my clients are, hopeless and sad. I have had no car, no money, and no hope. But I made it out.”

Post graduation, she goes into corporate law, but finds it soul sucking. She finds her life’s calling in public defense, particularly in defense of the mentally ill, who cannot negotiate the system without an advocate.

Becoming a Defense Lawyer and Finding Her Passion

“Public defense is the opposite and the antithesis of corporate law. It is fighting the powers that be for your clients in the system that is stacked against them. At times, there is too much autonomy and not enough help or oversight or resources. But if you’re a good lawyer, you make it work. If you love the underdog and a comeback story, you find your passion.“

Mantz mentions several good books about the prison system, an important one being The New Jim Crow. She gives many examples of how very ordinary youthful mistakes can move the very poor, people of color, or the mentally ill into the system permanently. She gives examples of her own youthful mistakes being forgiven. Hosting a kegger at her house when her parents are away is one. She is not punished, but is merely warned by police to behave. She reminds the reader that all drug offenses in her county used to be charged as felonies. Now, they are misdemeanors and marijuana is legal for personal use. The only thing that has changed is society’s attitude. So we need to rethink what makes a criminal.

A Life Filled with Hope

“My clients are all in dire situations, but no matter what their circumstances are, I always try and give them hope. I tell my clients what I told myself that day underneath the bleachers so long ago. 

“Tomorrow is another day. You will be OK.“

“Ironically enough, being a high school dropout is my magic wand. My history is what makes me a great deputy public defender. I have been where my clients are, hopeless and sad. I have had no car, no money, and no hope. But I made it out.”

A Good Choice for High School Readers

High school housekeeping: This little book is full of hope for teens who are not succeeding in high school. It’s a reminder that their futures are not set yet. It’s too small to shelve—it’d be lost. But it’s a great choice for a display spinner, where a student might be looking for just the right library book.

Note: I’ve been working on reviewing books which school librarians would not typically see in review journals, but are good choices for teens.

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A Face for Picasso

Image of the book cover for “A Face for Picasso”
A Face for Picasso by Ariel Henley

“People assume that because I had an unconventional appearance growing up, I did not have friends. People assume that because my eyes are crooked and far apart, I am not intelligent. People assume that because I do not meet arbitrary standards of beauty, I am not a strong, beautiful woman.”

Being Defined by a Condition

Ariel Henley (Belle to her family) and her twin sister Alixandria (Zan) are born with Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial condition where the bones in the head don’t grow. In the preface to A Face for Picasso, Henley describes her purpose in writing her memoir:

“My story is one rooted in the idea of beauty. So to write honestly about coming of age with Crouzon syndrome, I had to write about beauty through a lens of disfigurement. As a woman, I am defined by beauty; and as a woman with a facial difference, I am also defined by my very lack of the thing. This is a lesson I began learning in childhood. It’s a lesson I want to destroy.”

Wearing a Mask

In order to survive, Ariel and Zan require multiple surgeries. The medical procedures—opening up the skull, adding bones from the hips, etc.—are painful and require a lot of recovery. Though identical at birth, the surgeries cause the twins to look less and less like one another over time. As Ariel points out, she looks less and less like herself as well, a circumstance that makes her feel her identity is being stripped. Eventually, Ariel describes her face as a mask she can’t remove.

All the while, the girls suffer the rejection and outright taunts of their peers. School is a perpetual nightmare. Though the girls have friends in the neighborhood, they both desire acceptance outside of that insular world. After being denied positions on their elementary school cheerleading squad, they cheer for another school, having found openings where conventional beauty standards are not part of the evaluation.

Bullying, Taunts, and Eating Disorders

There are times in middle school when Ariel reaches her limit with being bullied and taunted. When a classmate belonging to the same breakout group cohort continually makes comments about her appearance, Ariel finally claps back, telling him it’s no wonder his father committed suicide with a son like him.

This incident made me think of how difficult middle and high school are—how many students are consistently in survival mode and desperate for acceptance. Because of Ariel’s appearance, this situation is amplified. She gets away from school when she can, choosing homeschooling when possible. Due to her self-criticism, she ends up with an eating disorder. 

Where are the Adults?

The chapters on school also made me wonder about the unwise choices adults in the educational environment make. In one homecoming scene, the Panthers’ cheerleaders must be escorted by the football players. The boys are each to give their assigned girl a rose, link arms and walk together to their court position. The boy escorting Ariel gives her the rose, but refuses to link arms (to touch her). At the end, some boys on the team make fun of him for having any proximity to her at all. Others congratulate him as if he’s survived a trial by fire. Why do such traditions exist in the first place?

Worse are teachers who behave like children but have authority over the lives of the kids. Ariel’s wood shop teacher is a jerk. He has a reputation for liking the pretty girls, getting too close to them, touching their shoulders. (I wonder how this would play out in today’s environment?) He hates having Ariel and Zan in his class. He doesn’t grade Ariel’s work. As she is about to fail the class, her parents get involved. The teacher is so awful and dismissive of the girls during the parent conference that the parents have the girls removed from the class. When other students ask why the girls are no longer in class, the teacher tells them the girls’ appearance was too distracting to the other students and not conducive to their learning. Why are such people not fired? 

Beauty, Difference, and the Ultimate Outsider

Henley is able to prevent her story from being inspiration porn, a thing we are inundated with daily on social media. She’s not writing to make the reader judge her as a hero or (worse) to feel ‘but for the grace of God . . ..’ Her work is a serious meditation on beauty, difference, and the effects of being the ultimate outsider.

From this meditation comes the title of the book. When Ariel and Zan are nine years old, they’re interviewed for the French edition of Marie Claire Magazine. “The article didn’t mention that Zan and I were people and not a medical condition. Then, stretched across the page, in big bold letters, I saw it: ‘Their faces resembled the work of Picasso.’”

Yet one of Ariel’s favorite teachers in middle school is her art teacher, Ms. J. She challenges students to think of beauty in new ways. She imparts an important lesson: 

“Art isn’t about what you see. It’s about what you feel. I want you to show me what you feel.” (In an ironic twist, while the woodshop teacher keeps his job. Ms. J is fired for assigning too much work.) 

A Face for Picasso

Her experiences lead Ariel to study Picasso and cubism as she grows up. As the reader, we learn that Picasso was a misogynist and an extremely abusive man—physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Henley draws a line between Picasso’s images of women pulled apart and put back together and the way he pulled women apart to remake them in his own image in real life. 

A Face for Picasso is a memoir I couldn’t put down. Henley’s experience and insights are valuable not only for an adult audience, but for middle and high school students as well. While reading it, I kept thinking this would be a great book for a schoolwide read. The classroom discussions would be meaningful, perhaps incredible. 

Middle School/High School Housekeeping

I found this book through an online writers’ group. In a comment on a post, someone mentioned to me that I would enjoy reading it. Once I started, I worried that school librarians might not hear about it. I decided to write a book review to post in multiple places hoping to connect with librarians somewhere. A few days later, the book won the Schneider Family Book Award Honor Book for Teens. I looked it up and realized it is also a 2021 Booklist Editors’ Choice and a New York Public Library Best Books of 2021. So—no worries about librarians ordering this after all. But if you are one and your school is looking for a schoolwide read, have a read yourself and consider nominating A Face for Picasso. 

If you are a teen or a parent of a teen, you might not know which books win awards—and may have missed this one. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed. 

Note: While the author makes a clear distinction between her nonfiction memoir and the middle-grade novel Wonder, if you want a refresher about that novel to consider the difference, I reviewed it here

Posted in Biography/Memoir, bullying, Human Rights Issues, Over 375 pages | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Girlz ’n the Hood

Girlz ‘n the Hood: A Memoir of Mama in South Central Los Angeles by Mary Hill-Wagner

Hill-Wagner is one of eleven children who grew up with an often single mother in South Central LA. Though her mother worked as a nurse’s aide, money was tight. At times, she was unemployed and her welfare benefits didn’t stretch to the end of the month. The school-age children would bring part of their school lunches home for the younger kids to eat. Mary collected returnable RC Cola bottles to buy herself treats. And while the family gets through these hard times, more serious troubles haunt siblings who become addicted and land on the wrong side of the law. At one point, the family loses its home to fire and spends weeks homeless. However, Mary’s mother manages to keep the family together. A Jehovah’s Witness, she abides in her faith, her quick-wit, her persistence, her hard work, and a number of handy guns. (Yes, those guns really do come in handy, but no spoilers.)

With Mary Hill-Wagner at her Barnes and Noble launch event, October 2021.

We know immediately that little Mary is an incipient writer. She loves to listen to adult stories and repeatedly risks punishment in order to eavesdrop on adults. In one funny scene, she puts a glass to the door and wonders why she can’t hear the conversation on the other side since it always works in the movies. 

Girlz ‘n the Hood concludes with poignant reflections on how much is enough when one is helping family members and also trying to escape a cycle of poverty. I highly recommend it. 

High School Housekeeping: I’ve been focusing on books that teens and librarians might not otherwise know about, but that are great choices for their reading and school libraries. Girlz ’n the Hood is an adult memoir, but an excellent choice for high school readers.

Posted in Biography/Memoir, Family Problems, Human Rights Issues, Multicultural, Non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Groveland Four

From LA Times article, November 28, 2021

An article in yesterday’s LA Times about the ‘Groveland Four’ being exonerated (they are all dead) caught my eye. I happened to have just finished reading a great book about the case: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. The article states: “Gilbert King, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2012 book about the case, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, attended the Monday hearing with Thurgood Marshall Jr., the son of the NAACP lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court justice who defended Irvin during his second trial.”

Devil in the Grove is about Thurgood Marshall, pre-Brown v. Board of Education. The major action begins in 1946, when Black veterans, having come home from fighting in WW II, were beaten in the streets if they dared wear their uniforms. The book has a lot of background on various work the NAACP was doing at the time, particularly research for equity and integration in schools. However, as indicated in the title, its main subject is the work of Marshall and others in a Groveland, FL case of rape accusation, an accusation against four Black men that was clearly false. A case that had all the elements of systemic racism, corruption, lying, and cheating that you could imagine. Every single one in a single case. The corrupt, murderous (and likely criminally involved in a gambling ring) Sheriff McCall feels like a caricature, and, yet, he is all too real. 

I didn’t start this on purpose thinking of the current trials—the Rittenhouse shame and the Arbery case. It’s an audiobook I bought quite a while ago and forgot I had. (I buy a lot more books than I can read and sometimes find titles in my own personal backlist.)  I found it when I was searching ‘unread titles’ on Audible. But the Rittenhouse case and the Arbery murders were being conducted as I went through the book. That this particular case took place in 1949 is relevant now. Sadly, there are moments when I was thinking “seventy-five years ago or today?” 

As it won the Pulitzer Prize, it’s probably evident that this is a great book. But now is a particularly consequential moment to read it as much of the subject matter plays out in our national news and is debated in our legislative bodies. The reader also learns about heroic people who are not as well known as Thurgood Marshall. The story of Harry T. Moore, executive director of the Florida NAACP, is particularly tragic. When he calls for the arrest of Sheriff McCall for the murder of one of the Groveland Four, his house is firebombed by (never found) KKK members on Christmas Night 1951. 

High School Housekeeping: Devil in the Grove is an important book because it tells the story of a representative injustice, one not taught or discussed in school. It’s adult nonfiction that I recommend for high school students.

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Acts of Contrition Book Discussion Tonight

Join Me to Chat about Acts of Contrition Tonight

“I couldn’t call my parents. Believe me, I was not alone in my willingness to risk being murdered on the street before admitting to them my shame. A violent death was an unlikely abstraction. The wrath of my parents, a certainty.”

These are a few lines from the short story “The Bitten Woman” in my collection Acts of Contrition. For my book discussion tonight, sponsored by Inlandia and the Riverside Public Library, I plan to read the first half of that story. I figure I should start at the beginning and see what people have to say.

Some of the stories have young protagonists—teen girls and young adult girls making their way in the world. Others center on older women. I thought librarians would enjoy the chat about the book.

If you are up for a book talk by two authors, please join us. My book is a collection of feminist short fiction. The other author, Marj Charlier, will discuss her historical fiction. Rebel Nun. We’ll talk about our paths to publishing and then answer questions. 7 PM PDT tonight. Put on your pjs and get your glass of wine! 😉 Register here.

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Sidelined: Sports Culture and Women

Image of the book cover for “Sidelined” by Julie DiCaro
Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America by Julie DiCaro

Excellent Overview of the Relationship of Sports Culture and Women

Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America consistently focuses on the place of women in American sports culture. The author, Julie DiCaro, worked in sports media before losing her job during the 2020 COVID pandemic. In the introduction she tells the reader that working in sports talk radio is “like working in a frat house” and goes on to prove it. There are very few women in sports talk radio. When they want to write about some of the larger cultural stories surrounding sports—social justice; the inequity in treatment between male and female athletes including equipment, venues, and pay; sexual harassment of the women who report on men’s sports; cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse perpetrated by male athletes—the station can shut down the story to avoid upsetting an important team or client. Stations also continue to have as guests male athletes who have been repeated and credibly accused of sexual assault because hey are popular. Some even employ these men as commentators. 

Working in sports talk radio is “like working in a frat house.”

A Brief History of Women in Sports Media

DiCaro begins with a history of women reporting on men’s sports and includes stories about access to male locker rooms (while raising the question of why interviews are even done in locker rooms). Early on women had buckets of water thrown on them and jockstraps thrown at them. Today many sports reporters are ‘sideline’ reporters who report from the field when there’s a lull in the action. Few have their own sports shows. Even if they are in the studio, they solicit the opinions of the males on the program.

Image of a Girl Scout cookie that says, “I am bold.”
I am Bold

Female Sports Commentating Today

One of the worst aspects of the job for a female sports commentator today is the blowback on social media, where they are cursed out, called slurs, and even receive death threats. A complete chapter covers the toxic, misogynistic environment of Barstool Sports which has a vast following of “Stoolies” who use social media to stalk, troll, and harass women. 

The very sound of female voices calling sports make some sports fans irate. Because of all this, women in sports often self-police, following all the rules, leaving off personality, which is so important in sports talk media. 

Women Athletes Today

Image not a Girl Scout cookie that says “I am Gutsy.”
I am Gutsy

The second half of the book deals with female athletes and women’s sports including double standards for behaviors (the treatment of Serena Williams stars in this section), the fight for equal pay (with an in-depth look at soccer) and finally the state of women’s and girls’ sports in other areas of the world relative to the United States. 

DiCaro makes suggestions for female sports fans to support both female athletes and reporters such as tuning in or listening in when females are playing or reporting. 

High School Housekeeping

While this is an adult book, it’s straightforward and clear. For high school students who are interested in the sports culture and how it relates to women, as well as those that are researching women in the workplace, the MeToo Movement and more, this is a great book. All of DiCaro’s discussions are backed with facts, stats, and examples from life. Sidelined includes both a bibliography of sources and a helpful index for those looking to do their own research. NB: As women in sports media are trolled, the book details some of the nastier things they are called, so examples of slurs and profanity are included.

Posted in Biography/Memoir, Human Rights Issues, Sports | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Rescue Plan Containing Multitudes

Rescue Plan book cover has boy jumping off a diving board into water

“Gomer knew what coming out was. He had taken the sex-ed classes, and there were gay people in his town, but they tended to come for weekends and the summer, because they had jobs in the city. They were rich gay people, in other words, and he went to public school, and the local people were different.”

Rescue Plan by Stephanie Barbe Hammer is the story of fifteen-year-old Gomer Faithcutt, a cancer survivor in search of a life plan. His hometown, Narrow Interior, is confining. His mom left the family to return to China when he was nine. His depressed dad, Gideon, is an artist who doesn’t have time to paint and is way too careful. Gomer lives with him and a chain-smoking landlady in an old house. He’s becoming aware of his bisexuality, a thing he’s not ready to discuss with his dad. 

Is a Rescue Plan a Survival Plan?

With his cancer in remission, and unsure about the future, Gomer wants more than a survival plan. He wants to fulfill goals. Along with his good friend Mackie, a girl he likes in a way he hasn’t yet defined, Gomer is taking a Junior Lifeguard Certification course. He’d started the course previously, but, as a result of cancer treatment, he was unable to complete his certification by passing the water challenges such as a mock rescue of a drowning person.

The course coach is less than understanding as Gomer works to regain his strength. Yet Gomer has a sense of magic that serves him well. In the showers at the public pool where he is training, he sees the image of a woman in the water. He meets the beautiful and graceful Christopher, who plays the mandolin. When a billionaire moves across the street from Gomer, we’re in the realm of the extraordinary.

A Rescue Plan Contains Multitudes

“People tend to assume you’re just one thing. Not more.” Rescue Plan is a work about being more than one thing. Gomer likes guys, girls, water, music, and ethereal beings. He fights weakness, cancer, an unempathetic coach, and even a chain-smoking landlady. And he learns something about himself and his loved ones along the way. 

“If someone you love teaches you something—anything—it’s a gift you hold onto. It’s a raft and a buoy.”

High School Housekeeping: I’m a big proponent of having a lot of short reads in the teen library. Placing novelettes on their own racks and spinners encourages readers to shop. But it also makes available good stories for students learning English and teens who are intimidated by longer work. Rescue Plan is published by the indie publisher Bamboo Dart Press and is available for purchase from their website, on Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and on Amazon. It’s a different read than the typical short novel for teens such as those from Orca. While I love the availability of those books, this fifty-page indie read is a chance to add something more edgy and more magical to the collection. It’s a more mature read that will appeal to the teen LGBTQ community as well. 

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