A coming-of-age novel with a queer country girl narrator playing sports and learning to interrogate her internalized misogyny while embracing who she is despite the opposition of certain members of her small town, including her nearest and dearest? I was wholly on-board even before I started reading Britta Lundin’s terrific, lived-in prose, and now I want everyone to read this wonderful book!
Mara Deeble has always been one of the boys. Her older brother Noah and her best friend Quinn are both big deals on the Elkhorn football team, but she’s always loved her place on the basketball team… until Coach Joyce benches her for punching a teammate. Now Coach refuses to reinstate her unless she can prove that she can go a full season on another team without getting into any fights. For girls at Elkhorn, the only other team sport is the (highly competitive) volleyball team. While it’s a good fit in terms of athletics, Mara doesn’t want to be one of those pretty volleyball girls who discusses make-up and clothes before games. So, egged on by Quinn, she decides to try out for football instead.
The Elkhorn football team is admittedly pretty dire, and while Coach Willis is initially flummoxed by the idea of a girl joining the team, he accedes to treating Mara like one of the boys when it becomes obvious that she has real talent. But when a group of other girls decides they want to play football too, and cite Mara as their inspiration, her already precarious social standing with the team goes downhill fast, especially when it becomes apparent that the other girls don’t actually know how to play. Mara certainly doesn’t want to be lumped in with them, and especially not with the deeply annoying Carly Nakata, who was the reason Mara got kicked off the basketball team in the first place. But another of the new players is the gorgeous Valentina Cortez, whom Mara has been crushing on since forever. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt her to give the girls a little coaching — especially since the male coaches seem entirely uninterested in teaching the newcomers any of the basics they need to succeed. As Mara gets closer to the other girls, she starts to question her own preconceptions and prejudices, even as she battles the same from the hostile people around her.
Y’all, this book was so freaking good. Mara starts out a deeply flawed narrator with massive anger issues, partly caused by her deep-seated need to pretend to be the feminine ideal of daughterhood that her mother craves despite her own inclinations as a butch lesbian. Through the power of friendship and the courageous examples she encounters, she slowly becomes self-aware enough to realize that she deserves better, both from the people who claim to love her and from herself. While I’ve never been in exactly the same situations Mara finds herself in, I’ve been in ones close enough to recognize and instinctively empathize with her plight, particularly as an unconventional adolescent who grew up surrounded by a judgmental small town mentality.
And, y’know, I didn’t know much and cared even less about American football before reading Like Other Girls, but have definitely gained an appreciation for the athleticism and strategy behind the sport since reading it. I also really admired the fact that domestic abuse is touched on, especially as it pertains to the lesbian community. Add to this really emotionally intelligent tale a wry sense of humor and a romance I was rooting for, and you have one of my best books of the year. Highly, highly recommended.
Like Other Girls by Britta Lundin was published August 3 2021 by Disney-Hyperion and is available from all good booksellers, including