Half of my closet contained a bookcase. If that doesn’t paint a picture of my formative years, nothing will. I can’t remember a time when books did not play a role in my life. My mother always had a book in our hand and always encouraged me and my younger brother to read. It didn’t matter what we read — novels, newspapers, magazines, comic books. Reading was important.(Of course my brother was weird and would actually read the encyclopedia for fun. OK, so he had an astronomical grade point average in college and is currently being offered spots at every doctorate program he applies to. That still was just weird.)
And so my childhood was filled with the Little House on the Prairie series, Trixie Belden (whom, I’m sorry, kicks Nancy Drew’s ass) and, yes, the Sweet Valley High series. Ah, Sweet Valley High. The trash novels of the pre-teen set. The stories revolved around twin sisters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield and were set in California. The plot? Almost always girl drama involving boys with a healthy does of personal appearance drama. We’re talking Beverly Hills 90210 the early years here.
So it was a return to my youth of sorts when I picked up three books in the Pretty Tough series.
These are young adult books for girls with a twist. All the main characters are female athletes.
They still endure the same high school drama that every teenage character endures. They have plenty of issues with boys and friends and family. They question their appearance. They are your basic teenage girls, who believe themselves to be abnormal or strange only to discover that others share similar feelings and insecurities.
All the books are set in Beachwood High School in California with the recurring adult, Martie, as the English teacher, soccer coach, adult philosopher who acts as the personal Yoda to each different class of girls.
The first book, Pretty Tough, centers on two sisters who play soccer. The second, Playing with the Boys, is about a girl who transfers to the California school from Ohio, is cut from the soccer team but becomes the kicker on the football team. The third, Head Games, is about a star center on the basketball team who comes to terms with her own height and her people-pleasing tendency with an extreme amount of boy drama.
Personally, the boy-centric tone of Head Games was not quite my taste, but as the story unfolded, it had in a bigger purpose and I certainly could identify with main character Taylor Thomas’ feelings of awkwardness, even if I’m only three-apples high.
The philosophy of the series seems best summarized from a passage in the acknowledgement section of the inaugural book:
Pretty Tough is … getting up early for practice and staying late to finish a game. It’s the way you think, the way you talk, the way you act and the way you walk. It’s an attitude. It’s a motto for those who can see it through. It’s the way you play and the work you do. It’s never backing down. It’s never letting up. Pretty Tough is busting stereotypes, reaching new dimensions, and pushing limits for the love of the game.
But it’s not just about the love of the game. Look a bit closer and all the main characters learn how the intangibles on their respective playing fields carry over into other parts of their lives, drama and all.
Finally, sporty girls get a series all their own, which reflects the complexity of our existence.