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REVIEW: The Long Shot by Ellen Hartman

Dear Ms. Hartman:

Within the space of about 20 minutes, I received two emails from disparate parties telling me I must read this book.  I toddled off and did what I was instructed. There were parts of the story that I loved but parts that frustrated me a great deal and so while I can see the charm of the story, some of it remains overshadowed.

Hartman the Long Shot
The Long Shot features a former pro basketball player who comes back to his hometown to coach his alma mater, not realizing he agreed to coach the girls’ team because the heroine, a guidance counselor for the high school conveniently leaves out that information

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the improbability of a 6′ 2″ white guy (he must play the point guard position although it is never stated because 6’2″ is on the short side in the NBA and most shooting guards are going to be at least 6′ 5″) going direct from high school (no guard has ever gone from high school to the NBA) being an NBA star.  Let’s set aside that this story could have so easily featured black athlete instead of a white one and concentrate on what makes the story good because if I dwell on the characters’ whiteness for too long, my angry face may make an appearance.

Julia Bradley is the guidance counselor at the Milton High School.  She has held that position for close to a decade and she also serves as the coach of the Lady Tigers, the girls’ basketball team.  Julia seems to know next to nothing about basketball but she tells us that her real work, connecting with the students, is done in the team setting.  The girl’s season is in jeopardy because of budget cuts. Julia bets the principal that her girls will make State in exchange for a promise of future funding, as if a principal is the sole person in charge of determining how school budget money is allocated. Nonetheless, moving forward, Julia realizes she needs boosters to financially support the girl’s season and concludes that a new coach would be beneficial.

Julia calls Deacon Fallon, a former Milton High School basketball player whom she views as her biggest failure.  She could not get Deacon to go to college; instead the lure of professioonal sports won out.  But Deacon was a success in the NBA until a shoulder injury forced him into retirement.  He owns a string of clinics around the state but has had nothing to do with Milton since his graduation.

Deacon’s brother gets into deep trouble at his college and Deacon must bail him out.  Worried that Wes doesn’t understand the value of having to fight for anything, that he’s cruising by on Deacon’s name and Deacon’s money, Deacon agrees to take the coaching position for one year at Milton High School not knowing it is for the girl’s team.

Of course, the team is disastrous – a melange of untalented girls more interested in their nail polish than pounding the hardwood.  Deacon’s brother, Wes, however relates to these kids and is able to breakthrough with a routine akin to High School Musical (and I am not exaggerating this in any manner).

Julia and Deacon’s attraction to each other is immediate and very little time is spent concerrned about either their age difference because the emotional conflict is centered around Deacon’s secret.  He is severely dyslexic and Julia’s family is the type that gives books as presents.

The best and most moving parts of the book are from Deacon’s point of view. His feelings of adequacy are challenged by his illiteracy.  He hides it from everyone, including his brother Wes. Only his agent is aware of his disability.  He is fearful of even going into a restaurant because he won’t be able to read a menu to give an order.

Wes believes that his brother, Deacon, is all powerful and feels less in his presence, causing him to act out against Deacon.  The book’s emotional arc covers the reconciliation of the brothers as well as a romance between Julia and Deacon.

I disliked, however, Julia’s presentation.  Her view that Deacon was her first failure was self indulgent masochism.  This man went on to be a success. It wasn’t academic success but he was able to take care of himself, his brother, and set up a string of successful businesses. What more could you want from a student you once cared about?  Her portrayal was rigid.  Because he didn’t go to college, he was her failure.  How humiliating for him.  How self indulgent of her.

Deacon was absolutely right to question how they could have an adult relationship when she refused to recognize that he wasn’t a failure.  I was further frustrated that the darkest moment was totally placed on Deacon’s shoulders.  Julia should have been equaally responsible and she failed to step up to the plate.  Perhaps it was because this was Deacon’s story and Julia was just the bystander.  She did not grow throughout the story.  She appeared to be as rigid and moralistic at the end as she was in the beginning and that was a true disappointment.  C

Best regards,

Jane

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[rant on] I understand that so many romance books feature hockey players because hockey is a white man’s sport (witness the terribly racist things that were tweeted after Joe Ward’s overtime goal sent the Boston Bruins packing from the Stanley Cup playoffs) but basketball is not a white man’s sport.

Since Lloyd made history, the NBA has increased its number of black players to 78 percent, according to the league’s racial and gender report last year. About 83 percent of the players in the league are people of color. Source: NBA

In fact, the few white men that have success in the NBA are currently European players like Dirk Nowitzki. Hell, even Stephen Nash is from Canada.  Further, to have some random white guy be the protagonist for this basketball book when the sport is predominantly black just reeks of white privilege. This random guy is of the 17% that is not a person of color?  If there was any book that could have featured a person of color, surely one where the protagonist is a basketball player is that book.  It’s not playing to type to have the main character a person of color, it’s just playing to the high percentage of reality. In fact, there isn’t even anything in the book to even indicate that there are people in color in this person’s world. If a player made it to the elite NBA level, there would have to be more than one person of color in his field of acquaintances.  The only people of color are a few players on the girl’s team. The girl’s team!  Ugh. I don’t know whose fault this is, but this bothers me.  [rant off]

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    May 07, 2012 @ 04:15:19

    I saw this on the DA May Recommended Reads list – Did Sunita like this one better than you did Jane or did you change your mind about the grade after the post? Enquiring minds… :)

  2. Merrian
    May 07, 2012 @ 04:35:12

    Also regarding the definition of success, I read somewhere recently that the majority of top level sports players end up in financial strife in the years after they retire so for him to not do so is also a definition of success.

  3. Jane
    May 07, 2012 @ 06:31:51

    @Kaetrin Sunita liked it much more than I and Sarah Wendell picked it as her SbTb book club read. The shame issue for Deacon was really marvelous but for me, the presentation of the heroine and other small issues impacted my appreciation of the book.

  4. Keishon
    May 07, 2012 @ 07:22:46

    Well, your rant has put me off reading this book indefinitely. I mean it’s a valid point. I could have suspended disbelief for it probably if the story was good enough but sounds like it wasn’t.

  5. Kelly
    May 07, 2012 @ 08:53:42

    Sounds like a Very Special Episode of Glee to me. Give that chick on the cover red hair and she’s Emma Pillsbury.

    At least High School Musical has some diversity and no perky former cheerleader guidance counselors.

  6. Sunita
    May 07, 2012 @ 09:00:03

    @Kaetrin: I did like this book more than Jane, although I agree with many of her criticisms. I thought the relationship between Deacon and Wes was really well done, and I appreciated how different they were despite having gone through the same traumatic years, the way real siblings often are. I also thought Hartman did a terrific job with the small-town upstate New York setting and a lot of the supporting characters.

    Julia was not that likeable to me; like Jane, I would have liked to see her change more and realize that her investment in Deacon was selfish, and that her inexperience had led her to see him very partially. But I put up with that because Deacon and Wes were such great characters and had such a good relationship.

    On the race issue, Jane is right, of course, that this was really a missed opportunity to have a black hero. There were shorter white guys playing in the NBA a decade ago (and shorter black players: Allan Iverson is shorter than Deacon in the book), but they wouldn’t have made it to the NBA straight from high school, that’s for sure. The skipping of college was obvious given the plot point, but it required a huge suspension of disbelief. Had it been football I’m sure I would have been outraged, but since I gave up being a basketball fan years ago I let it slide.

  7. Miss_Thing
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:01:58

    I am curious about the missed opportunity to have the hero be a black athlete – it’s been a long time since I’ve been a regular reader of category romances, but it seems to me that I rarely, rarely see interracial couples in this genre. In fact, the only genre that seems to welcome diversity is erotic romance. I’m kind of puzzled by this; as a Caucasian woman, I’ve dated men of all races and so have most of my friends of varying racial/ethnic backgrounds. I would LOVE to see this reality reflected in more of the romances I read, category and otherwise. Maybe I have a liberal coastal perspective, but isn’t this really kind of the norm these days? Frankly, I seek out books featuring interracial couples because I get so annoyed at the persistent whiteness of the romance genre as a whole. NEED MOAR DIVERSITY PLS! Other than Nalini Singh, I can’t think of another mainstream romance author who consistently features non-white heroes and heroines. (I’m sure there are a few more but I haven’t had enough coffee yet). Anyway, thus endeth my mini-rant, but it’s an issue that’s been bothering me lately.

  8. Sunita
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:04:56

    @Miss_Thing: Cheryl St. John had a Silhouette featuring an IR romance a couple of years ago. I remember liking it when I read it and thinking the race aspect was handled pretty well:

    http://ebooks.eharlequin.com/E53F8E94-D445-4C9E-93F0-B7EB12B57C7A/10/141/en/ContentDetails.htm?ID=5B2AC184-FEFB-403D-BF58-75C9992BAE67

  9. Jane
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:06:28

    @Miss_Thing: Kerry Connor wrote an interracial couple for Harlequin Intrigue and she has another out this fall. Maisey Yates wrote an interracial couple for a Mills & Boon modern (and apparently got a ton of negative emails about the cover which featured a hot black guy and a white chick). In paranormal, Christine Feehan has a bit of diversity. Her next release has a Japanese heroine and a black hero. But you are right, there is not a lot of diversity in the ethnicity of characters. Would like to see more of that myself.

  10. CK
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:18:32

    So who’s to blame for the lack of diversity? Publishers, editors, writers or readers? Didn’t we have this conversation regarding Asian heroes?

    I was surprised by the Yates brouhaha because I thought the models were striking even though the pose was ‘off’. Why is it still so risque or offensive to have a hot non-white (or European) guy on the cover?

    @Miss_Thing: Shelly Laurenston has diverse heroes and heroines even though her covers don’t always reflect the characters.

  11. Miss_Thing
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:19:00

    @Sunita: Thanks for the recommendation and link, Sunita – I’ll definitely take a look at this title.

  12. Miss_Thing
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:27:20

    @Jane: Thanks for your recommendations as well! I’m really surprised to hear about the Mills & Boon controversy, though I guess I shouldn’t be, considering all of the crap surrounding the casting of The Hunger Games.. I guess we’re not as post-racial as I’d like to think. I do notice that there seems to be more room for diversity in paranormals; somehow skin color isn’t a big deal when you’re asked to believe that your hero/heroine sucks blood or turns into an animal (or is an alien). I just would really like to see Nora Roberts or a Jayne Ann Krentz write an IR couple, you know? A well-written contemporary romance where the racial difference isn’t the main conflict of the story but merely a component of the hero or heroines (preferably hero’s) character.

  13. Miss_Thing
    May 07, 2012 @ 10:50:35

    @CK: It’s the chicken and the egg question, I think, regarding who drives trends in romance content. I hear publishers say they’re responding to what sells, but if you’re hungry and you’re only offered a limited selection, you’re going to eat what’s available, right? And I don’t necessarily think that publishers are the best judges of what readers want. I have many, many thoughts about this subject but don’t want to hijack this thread :-).

    Shelly Laurenston is fantastic! Lauren Dane has a few books featuring IR couples that I enjoyed. I’m sure there are more but my caffeine-deprived brain is moving very s-l-0-0-0-w-l-y today. :-) I welcome any and all recommendations though!

  14. TiceB
    May 07, 2012 @ 11:15:45

    Monta Ellis is a shooting guard, (6’3″) who went straight from high school to the NBA in 2005. Kobe Bryant is another shooting guard (although he’s 6’6″) who skipped college to go straight to the pros. (There’s a list of NBA high school draftees on Wikipedia that mentions several other guards also.) The real obstacle to this career path now, though, is the 2006 collective bargaining agreement which says a player has to be one year removed from high school before he can be drafted. By the way, wouldn’t it be ironic if the author made her basketball-playing hero white instead of black because she didn’t want to be accused of racially stereotyping?

  15. Sirius
    May 07, 2012 @ 12:00:27

    Hmm, I think I am going to get it – I am way more interested in brothers’ reconciliation story than in the romance as you described it, but for that story I am going to try it. Thank you.

  16. Ridley
    May 07, 2012 @ 15:35:11

    @Miss_Thing:

    Frankly, I seek out books featuring interracial couples because I get so annoyed at the persistent whiteness of the romance genre as a whole. NEED MOAR DIVERSITY PLS!

    This x 9000.

    I’m so tired of romances with entirely white casts of characters. That’s not the world I live in. My cookouts and house parties have people from everywhere. White (non-latino) kids made up only 35% of my high school. My teachers, coaches and professors have been from a wide variety of races and cultures. So why are my romance novels so starkly white?

    I’d like to see Harlequin or a digital-first publisher come out with a multicultural line. I’d love it if they let black characters outside the AA romance line to be something more meaningful than the Sassy Best Friend, if December brought Hanukkah romances as well as Christmas ones, and if some of the many other cultures on this continent could get some face time.

  17. Tina
    May 07, 2012 @ 21:31:30

    Sounds like a good book but I’ll probably pass. I have been having bad luck lately with heroines who piss me off. And this one sounds like she’d piss me off royally.

    I had to laugh at your rant, Jane, b/c my first thought when I first read the back blurb of the book was a resigned, ‘Dang, the hero is in the NBA and yet he is still white.’

    Right now I am doing a reading club read of Bared to You by Sylvia Day –(they wanted to read That Other Book, but I balked and suggested this one instead) and one of the other readers dryly pointed out that Sylvia introduced more people of color in her first couple of chapters than some authors have in their entire back-list. They aren’t main characters but the book takes place in NYC. It is kinda sad in this day and age that you actually have to give an author credit for remembering that NYC, of all places, is diverse.

    Also, funny you should mention Dirk Nowitzki. Random useless factoid: his girlfriend Jessica Olsson is black.

  18. Ann Bruce
    May 07, 2012 @ 22:55:45

    @Merrian: Sports Illustrated estimated that 60 percent of NBA players are in financial trouble five years after retirement; 78 percent of NFL players in two years. I don’t have the stats for MLB or NHL players. Anecdotally, most NHL players aren’t nearly as poor money managers as players in other professional sports because they make relatively less and aren’t as extravagant. I know a number of NHL players, active and retired, and they have relatively modest tastes.

    I keep thinking about starting a money management firm for athletes because all I have to do to be successful is put their money into a high-yield savings account or premium money market account, force them to follow a budget, and when they whine, tell them the cautionary tales of Mike Tyson, Scottie Pippen, Lawrence Taylor and Lenny Dykstra. Or maybe that’s the start for the next book.

  19. Keishon
    May 08, 2012 @ 06:04:12

    Just saw where Shaq just earned his PhD. I think it’s in education, too.

  20. Ros
    May 08, 2012 @ 17:46:51

    @TiceB: I think she’d be more worried about that stereotype if there were hundreds of other books featuring black basketball players. When yours is the only one, it’s not actually a cliche.

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