Author: Miranda Kenneally
I've been aware of this novel for a while and shied away from reading it because it's similar in some regards to my own Seasoning. So what made me take the plunge? Well I was kicked into dealing with it by the news story of Maddy Paige's appalling treatment by the delusional and clueless so-called Strong Rock Christian School. It needs to be renamed "Rocks in the Head Christian School" or "Strong Discrimination Christian School". Things desperately need to change, and reviewing this novel and others like it down the road is one albeit tiny way to get the feeling out there that gender is irrelevant to everything except procreation, and amongst some species, not even then! Since my own Seasoning novel is already published and was originally written some years ago, no one can accuse me of ripping off someone else's work!
Having completed Catching Jordan, I can say that the two novels are indeed very different. Seasoning isn't about romance or getting into college, it's about the game and about genderism, and it's about growing up, not about wallowing blindly in some adolescent fiction; it's about leading and taking charge, and it's about overcoming paralyzing fear. This isn't a comment on Catching Jordan, but it is a comment on bad YA fiction. Seasoning was never aimed at the young adult market although I'm working (on and off, mostly off!) on a partially illustrated version which will be aimed precisely at that market.
Before we get started on the review let me comment in detail on the Maddy Paige insanity. I noticed while reading the limited news items about it, that the Atlanta Phoenix is supporting Maddy, but it seems a bit sad to me that a team which is segregated from "men's" sports is supporting a woman who wants precisely the opposite: a fully-integrated team!
Maddy's case is clearly religiously motivated. This world is always sadder when religion ceases to be personal and becomes a power-play once more, but this goes beyond just religion: it's also an ingrained societal imperative, as was shown by Constanta.com's article about it, where Veronica Griffin of all people labeled Atlanta Phoenix as a "Women's Professional Football team", not simply as a "Professional Football team".
The bottom line is that if a person is good enough, that's all there is; gender (or anything else for that matter) is irrelevant. It's time to stop seeing this as inviolably delineated "men's" and "women's" and start seeing it as "people's". What, exactly, does Strong Rock's Phil Roberts mean when he talks about "girl sports" and "boy sports"? Do sports have gender now‽ Seriously? If history teaches us anything, it's that segregation has never been the answer. We're in a position where even the military is fully integrating women, so why are we deliberately segregating half of our population in sports?
If Phil Roberts was scared that "...boys were going to start lusting after her...", then what he needed to address is the abject failure of his (evidently not) Strong Rock Christian school to inculcate children in appropriate values and behaviors instead of punishing a 12-year-old girl for his school's sorry failure. Or does he want us to believe that a good Christian education necessarily turns out lustful boys? Maybe it's a case of strongly sucks, not strongly rocks?
If it's true that women cooperate better than men as some studies suggest, then including women on the team (not "the boys team", just "the team") is not only a just thing to do, it's a demonstrably smart thing to do!
So let's review! I have to say that I was turned off this novel rather quickly (by p15!) when Tyler Green ("Ty" of course) saunters onto the stage, and Jordan Woods turns almost literally to Jell-O™. Now this is the tough captain of her team, used to being in charge, used to playing rough, used to focusing, surrounded by hunks every day, getting down and dirty with them, and not a whisper of an overt attraction, but her legs literally go rubbery when Ty shows up. I'm sorry but that made me nauseous. Keneally betrayed Jordan right there and then. I found myself seriously hoping this novel was better than this, but I had little faith that it was over the next thirty pages that I read.
Jordan Woods (cool last name!) is the captain of her high school football team. She's also the quarterback. This parallels my own Janine Majeski character who is the captain of her factory soccer team and also the lead striker, and that's pretty much where the parallel ends. Jordan's dad is a major league football player (who predictably isn't supportive of her, but he is supportive of her bother, who plays college football). Her mother, predictably, is supportive, but has some weird ideas about how her daughter needs to represent herself to guys. Her idea of selling herself is to completely sell out.
When Ty, the predictable new kid in town, appears at practice hoping for a place on the team, Jordan is so predictably distracted in practicing a new snap that one of her own team, playing opposition, sacks her. For those not familiar with American football, the term 'sacking the quarterback' doesn't mean firing her, it means tackling. Why it has to be described in such dramatic terms is a mystery. Rome was sacked, a quarterback is simply knocked over - like a liquor store. Americans are probably the only nation on the planet who think along Muslim lines, but not about god: about their own nation! Whereas the Muslims assert in the Shahada that "there is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of God," Americans assert however unconsciously, there is no nation but the USA; capitalism is its profit.
So while to the rest of the world, 'football' means two teams of eleven kicking a ball around a pitch, trying to get it into opposing nets, America begs to differ. No, not even begs: demands! Contrary to real football where the hand isn't allowed to touch the ball unless you're a goalkeeper or you're throwing the ball back in after it goes out over the side line (and there are strict rules covering all that), in (American) football the foot never touches the ball! Well, yeah, there's a rare instance or two, such as kick off, for example, but this is really not football. It's Carryball or Throwball. Tarryball? Crowball?!
Anyway Jordan is fine: she's a tough player, but all of this is about to go as far south as the South Auckland Saints courtesy of super-hunk Ty. Suddenly Jordan, hitherto the consummate player, cannot think of anything else but Ty and his hunky body. Indeed, her whole life quits orbiting planet football and starts circling the drain of sinkhole Ty. I'm sorry, but I don't buy this given what we've been told about Jordan. Yes, I would buy that she's strongly attracted to a guy, but not like it's described here, and not to the virtual abandonment of everything else. That's not the Jordan I was introduced to in the first fifteen pages. I don't know why Kenneally betrays and abandons that Jordan, disrespecting her and morphing her from a worthy, even remarkable female protagonist into nothing more than a gland warmer.
Over the next thirty pages or so we reach the point where Jordan isn't sleeping because she can't stop thinking of Ty, and where she's spending hours doing her hair, shaving her legs, and picking out a wardrobe. One thought she has is "I hope Ty likes shea butter," although whether she imagines him eating her or simply fondling her skin isn't detailed. And yeah, I hope that did disgust you because it disgusted me to read what Keneally was writing here. But Keneally thinks it's okay to write this stuff as long as she has Jordan agree that "Yeah, I know. I make myself sick, too."! She tops all this with a lacy underwear set which barely covers her (and which her own mother bought for her), and incorporates a push-up bra underneath an unusually (for her) low-cut T-shirt.
What bothers me about this is that there seems to be a mindset here that Ty is somehow going to intuit exactly what Jordan is wearing and react favorably, even predictably to it! I really don't care if she falls for a guy or sleeps with him if she's thought it though some. That's her business. It's also her business what she wears, but for her to react like this when she's met Ty just once, hardly spoken to him, and doesn't know squat about him is a disgrace. Is she planning on flying into bed with him when she knows nothing about him, his habits, his attitude towards women, or most importantly, his sexual history? Remember this is a girl who, we're told, has been playing school football for many years. She's not thirteen, she's seventeen. She supposed to be on the cusp of adulthood. She's the best there is at what she does in her state. She didn't get there by failing to plan, failing to anticipate, failing to look ahead and to consider all the options, or by acting like she's brain-dead. Yet all of that training, which is ingrained if we're to believe what Kenneally has told us in the first fifteen pages, runs completely off the clock!
Keneally's genderism exposed in this novel is another disgrace, as is her appalling deprecation of "math nerds". She puts this bigotry into Jordan's mind, but that only makes it worse: if Jordan is in a position where discrimination and bigotry come into play, then where does she get off employing that same attitude towards others? This just makes Jordan look like a hypocrite or a privileged brat. Those are not qualities which will endear her to me. To her credit, Keneally does try to claw some of this back later in the novel, but whether she does enough is up to you to decide.
If some clueless guy had written this novel it wouldn't be any less excusable, but it would be more understandable. For this to come from a female writer is disturbing at best. Keneally's attitude towards Jordan's fellow football players is pretty much that they're all closet rapists. And what's with them all calling her 'Woods'? It seems all the girls and virtually none of the guys get to be called by their first name. That just struck me as weird. The two main protagonists are the exceptions to this. There is another, the third element of the almost inevitable triangle, but both his first and last names sound like first names so it doesn't really make an impact!
Jordan's attitude towards the cheerleaders is that they're all essentially ignorant, rude, cruel, and air-headed bimbos who neither know nor care about football, only about the hunks who play it. I don't doubt for a minute that there are cheerleaders like that, and high school football players like she describes and implies, but to categorize all of them in one way is bigoted nonsense. It's no better than saying something as idiotic as "all black people are drug addicts", or "gays are pedophiles". I was dearly hoping at this point that this novel improved, but I wasn't optimistic, especially when I discovered that Keneally is yet another writer who thinks in terms of 'bicep' and not 'biceps'!
Jordan gets screwed over by her coach in the first game of the season when he dumps her after the first half and puts Ty in, in her place. This is the game which has scouts from the University of Alabama watching; then Alabama seems to want her as a college player, but makes her pose in make-up and a demeaning outfit for their calendar. I have to wonder if anyone from the UoA has seen this novel and how they feel about Keneally describing their picture-taking as she does. I just Googled pictures for UoA and women's sports and saw nothing even remotely like Keneally describes! Is this a personal vendetta against Alabama?
On the emotional front, Jordan really starts screwing things up. For a seventeen-year-old she acts like a ten year old. For a team captain she's clueless in how to apply what she supposedly knows there to other parts of her life. She does precisely what we expected, and starts dating Ty, and then she discovers how utterly clueless she's been with Sam, who she's known for a decade and who is in love with her. She rides roughshod over his feelings and while she's telling him that she wants everything to remain the same between them (but really, he's not good enough for her). While she's doing this, she ignores message after message from Ty. When he finally comes over in tears through worry about her whereabouts and welfare (and yes, he does overdo it on the "I need to know where you are" power-play, but he lost his parents to a car accident and didn't know where they were, either). Jordan rightly tells him off about that, but this is after she basically told Sam how things were going to be! In short, she treats both guys like dirt.
At that point, I didn't like Jordan any more, and since this was the only character in this entire novel who had offered any hope of holding my interest, I was disappointed to say the least. The opening few pages were all about sports, but sports was quickly ditched with the arrival of Ty, and that was a mistake; the novel took a turn for the worst with that, but by the time my doubts were maximizing, I had only a hundred or so pages left to go, so I pressed on, and Keneally actually did struggle to pull this out of the fire. It's for that reason alone that I'm rating it as a cautious 'worthy'. The writing - technically speaking - isn't bad, but the events and conversation are rather tedious at times, stuck in a groove. However since I have to operate under the assumption that what might seem less than ideal to me could seem reasonable to someone who is actually the same age as Jordan. I would hope that such people have a bit more going for them and be looking out for something stronger than this, but maybe this will do for now.