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.
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
[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]