Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Study - CATCHING JORDAN

I'm afraid I may have given some bad advice to my critique partner, the lovely and talented Emery Lord. She's working on a project that involves a young celebrity, and there were some moments in her text when this character interacted with real celebrities - for example, receiving a text message from Zac Efron, or sharing a green room with Miley Cyrus (ps, both of those examples are fake).

I told her that mixing the real celebrities with the imaginary ones kind of broke the illusion for me, gave me a little flick at the back of my brain that said, "Wait... that's not real."

When I was in high school drama club, our director always emphasized the importance of the 'invisible wall' between the stage and the audience, making sure we avoided anything that would take them out of the moment we'd worked so hard to create. That wall exists between readers and authors as well, between reality and fantasy, and when something goes wrong, it's like Sirius Black falling through the curtain at the end of Order of the Phoenix. As a reader, it's hard to come back from that.

These little breaks indicate that the author isn't in full control of the story. You don't want the reader to think they have a better idea of what's going on than you do. But, after reading CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally, I wonder if I was too harsh. Maybe dropping real names can add to the illusion instead of detracting from it.

Yes, CATCHING JORDAN is a football book. Yes, it's a theme here on the blog this month. If the Mayans are right, we only have a few weeks left of football ever, so I'm going to squeeze every last drop out of it, okay?

Our narrator, Jordan Woods, is the daughter of a famous NFL Quarterback, who as far as I can tell is a mixture of Kerry Collins, Brett Favre, and Archie Manning. In my head 'The GREAT Donovan Woods' looks like Kerry Collins, which only enhanced my enjoyment of the story.

Donovan Woods exists in a parallel universe where he plays against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He's starting for the Tennessee Titans at age 43 (not even Brett Favre played that long). In college at Ole Miss, he won not one but TWO Heisman trophies (prompting me to frown, ask 'has anyone ever won two?', and immediately turn to Google for answer - yes, one running back from Ohio State named Archie Griffin).

The GREAT Donovan Woods's daughter Jordan hopes to become the first girl ever to start as quarterback for a college team - specifically, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Which, by the way, Alabama just won the National Championship a couple of days ago. If I were Kenneally, I would have done a quiet victory dance. She had to have picked all of the teams involved in this story at least two years ago - and now she's probably also saying, "Thank God I didn't say she wanted to play for Penn State."

Kenneally's parallel universe is interesting because of how she blends the real and imaginary around that invisible wall. We see real people and real teams, but they are kept at a distance - meaning we never get to gaze longingly into the dreamy blue eyes of Tom Brady. Or, whatever color they are - I honestly don't know because I'm afraid if I look he'll steal my soul.

Maybe the secret is that Kenneally sprinkled in a lot of fictitious 'famous' people with just a dash of real ones. For every 'Tom Brady' she has quarterbacking the Patriots, she has a 'Coach Thompson' at Alabama (the real coach is Nick Saban). Jordan never has direct contact with the Tom Bradys, just sees them off in the distance. Anyone she actually interacts with only exists in this parallel universe. Too many Tom Bradys would have felt overwhelming and cheesy, but just the right amount acts like a garnish, or a little salt used to enhance the natural flavors.

Maybe that's the key to maintaining the illusion. Look at the real world, but don't touch. Keep a degree of separation and use sparingly. Either that, or establish a premise that suspends disbelief immediately, like that one time when Charles Dickens helped Doctor Who defeat the evil zombies on Christmas Eve. I'm still reeling over that one.

So, upon further review, the ruling on the field is overturned. Emery, the real celebs are fair game!

A few parting thoughts on this book before we get to the contest: I read this book with a very 'gotcha' attitude. I was almost BEGGING Kenneally to screw something up, even Googling anything I thought might be questionable. Passionate readers will do things like this, regardless of your topic, and she did a nice job.

Kenneally built Jordan's character in a way that demonstrated how much she knew about the game. A good quarterback isn't just someone who can throw a ball to a specific spot - a good quarterback has a lot of intangible charismatic personality traits. The best ones are the leaders that other leaders will follow. When Jordan's confidence was shakey, it showed in everything she tried to do. Kenneally also showed Jordan's quarterbacky-ness in her relationships with her teammates - her linemen protect her both on and off the field; her wide-receiver is her closest friend.

When you boil it all down, CATCHING JORDAN is a story about a girl in a guy's world, trying to prove herself excellent when there is a neon sign reading GIRL that not many people can see past. But even more than that, it explores the idea that you can want one thing so passionately that it makes you compromise who you are - and maybe, on the other hand, there is something that looks like a compromise that's actually better than what you think you want.

CONTEST: If you'd like to win a free copy of CATCHING JORDAN, please enter a comment below before midnight CST January 18th. (Open internationally, must be at least 13 years old to win; random number generator will select the winner). Last time, I included candy in the prize. I'm willing to do that again, if you ask politely.

Back tomorrow with this week's NFL PLAYOFFS CHEATSHEET!