Dear Ms. Zapata:
This is a tough book because it’s a fairly slow moving story and much of it is focused on the heroine’s struggle with her current position in life, but there is a romance in it and the ending of the story is very romantic.
A friend of mine said that the first chapter is to hook the reader on the present book and the last chapter is to get the reader to buy the next book (not necessarily in the series but just any book by the author). And truly the ending of this book left me with such a good book feeling that it erased all the negative ones I had during the first 50% of the book where I struggled to become engaged. I think knowing that the book is slow but that the reward is worthwhile is important going into this book.
Salome “Sal” Casillas is a soccer player with the Houston . Reiner Kulti, a recently retired international soccer icon, has agreed to be an assistant coach for the team. Sal has conflicting feelings toward Kulti. On the one hand, she grew up adoring him. Like Jess Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham, she has posters of Kulti in her room. She wrote fan letters to him. She kissed the posters when she got older. Her fantasy was to marry him and have dozens of soccer babies with him. Her fantasy was marred when he married someone else, but who cares about those small details.
Sal’s brother, Eric, however who also plays pro soccer (or futbol as everyone else in the world uses) had an altercation with Kulti resulting in a broken leg for Eric. But her childhood crush burns brighter than her sisterly loyalty. After all, she became a soccer player because of Kulti. He is her inspiration so to have him as her coach? It’s almost a dream come true. Until Kulti shows up.
He’s as surly, hostile, and disagreeable as any human being. Every attempt Sal makes at drawing him out is met with disdain. And even a threat. But over time, Sal discovers that Kulti is not only alone, but he is lonely and she can’t stop herself from reaching out to him again.
She invites him to her coed softball league games, to her youth clinics, to even her home and they become…friends. Underneath their friendship is her very real crush that still has not been snuffed out by Kulti’s brusqueness or his past run in with her brother.
But concurrent with her strange relationship with Kulti is the direction of her career. She loves playing in Houston but she’s been muscled out of a spot on the National team despite being one of the best midfield strikers. She had a drink and date with the husband of one of the senior players and she got Sal blackballed from the National team.
Her career is jeopardized further by her antagonistic relationship with the Houston GM (he’s mostly a jerk; she really doesn’t do anything but show up and try to be the best player possible). As a female pro soccer player, she has limited options.
The character of Sal is fully realized. From the workouts, to the general aches and pains, to the on the field games, I really felt I was there in the moment. I also appreciated the insight into what it means to be a pro soccer player in the US. Sal has only one endorsement. She works part time as a landscaper to help supplement her income. She plays professional soccer and devotes her life to it because it’s her passion, not because it is making her rich.
As a sports fan, I think this part of the story really appealed to me. BUT the movement of the story is incredibly slow. And there’s a strange storytelling technique used (which just might be a writer quirk). There’s a set up for an emotional response but the wind up to the response can take paragraphs or even pages so that by the time you get from say the insult to the response to the insult you often forget exactly what you were reading. It’s this that drags down the story.
Toward the end, it picks up and those techniques aren’t used as much. And as Kulti and Sal interact more, frankly, it’s much more interesting. It’s hard to grade this book. I really loved parts of it, but the first 40-50% was a slog. Because the ending is so strong (at least for me), I’m going with a B-.