Welcome to SPORTY GIRL BOOKS. At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about any sport that interests them. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Retro Review: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley

If you didn't get your fill of Winter Olympics in the last few weeks, here is your chance to get back on the slopes. Whether you are regular, goofy-footed, or *gasp* a two planker (like me BTW) you're going to love GIRL OVERBOARD.

From the LB Teen/Hatchette website:

Everybody thinks Syrah is the golden girl. After all, her father is Ethan Cheng, billionaire, and she has everything any kid could possibly desire, right down to a waterfront mansion, jet plane, and custom-designed snowboards. But most of what glitters in her life is fool's gold. Her half-siblings hate her, her best friend Adrian's girlfriend is ruining their friendship, and her own so-called boyfriend is after her for her father's name. When her broken heart results in a snowboarding accident that exiles her from the mountains--the one place where she feels free and accepted for who she is, not what she has--Syrah must rehab both her busted-up knee, and her broken heart, and learn that she's worth her weight in real gold.

Right now, I'm in the midst of last minute preparations for a class I'm teaching called "Desire in the Middle Grade and Young Adult Novel." Because of that, my lens is very much on how authors allow readers to connect with their main character through a stated or implied desire/goal/want. I'm focussed on how a writer can make showing, not telling, do the heavy lifting in introducing character, setting, conflict, and desire. Chen Headly does this beautifully.

In the first three chapters the author makes it clear that Syrah is a little rich girl. This is a challenge for Syrah but it could easily be a problem for the author. Not a lot of readers will feel that they can connect with Syrah. Did you get a recording studio for your 10th birthday? Probably not.

Here's where the difference between sympathy and empathy comes into play. If a character is sympathetic, it means we like them. If a character is empathetic, it means that we can connect with them. Not all main characters need to be likeable but we need to be able to connect with them in some way. Often, that is through their desires.

Who doesn't want SOME thing?

No one. (she says answering her own question)

And because of that, we empathize. Syrah wants to ride more than anything. An injury has sidelined her and so her yearning for a chance back at the mountain is especially intense.

In addition to her desire, Syrah has a parents who don't get her and a blended family that drives her crazy. Many of us can relate to that too.

The author uses Syrah's father's 70th birthday party and Chinese New Year celebration to showcase the family's wealth and dysfunction: the nanny who helps 15 year-old Syrah dress, her half-sister's yippy purse dog, Syrah's Viewridge Prep perfectly wealthy classmates, and the rubberband of a dress that her mother has lain out for her. All of this is well juxtaposed with Syrah's desire.
Alone in my bedroom, I stare at my pale face. Turning away, I rush over to my bedside table, grab my cell phone and call Age, wherever he is, ready to beg him to come get me. Bring me to the mountain. To hell with my knee. And my parents. 
Her pre-accident snowboarding posters, and ribbons are relegated to her closet. The one place in her "antique-laden" home where she's allowed to keep the things that define her. But her parents have a hold on her and so she uses the skin colored makeup her mother has required so she can be presentable for the party to conceal her true self – something with which all teen readers can empathize.

One tid bit... I do wish that the publisher had been brave enough to use an Asian model on the cover instead of having her facing away from us. 

For more of the snowboarding and GIRL OVERBOARD love take a look at the Author's You Tube Channel here.

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