Back in early August, Doret Canon of the wonderful blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, wrote to thank me for linking to her and ”put in a request for a YA novel featuring girls playing sports. Any sport will do.” I misread her as asking for recommendations for such YA novels when she was in fact asking me to write ‘em. (What can I say August was kind of mental for me.) I was ashamed to discover that all I could think of was Catherine Murdock’s Dairy Queen series and my own How To Ditch Your Fairy. It transpired that Doret knows more about YA sports books than anyone else on the planet. We soon got to talking about books, sport, and YA about girls playing sport.The bolding is mine. I was so struck by the phrasing because it so reminds me of conversations about lit with GLBTQ characters, characters of color.
Justine: What do you think of the theory that girls who like sports don’t read? (I’ve had several girls write and tell me that they loved How To Ditch Your Fairy despite all the sport in it. On the other hand, I had another girl write and tell me she loved it because she’s a point guard. She comes from a family of basketball playing twins.) There does seem to be a conviction that girls have zero interest in sports books.
Doret: I haven’t heard that theory. Though I have heard that sports books featuring girls don’t sell. How can girls buy books they don’t know about. I always feel bad when a girl comes into the bookstore still in uniform mind you, searching for sports book and I have nothing to show them. It totally sucks. Also it sends an awful message to girls who play sports, that they must hunt down stories that reflect a big part of who they are. Let’s just hope that sports self esteem is working because under representation is bad for anyone’s psyche.
Justine: You said it. I can’t think of any girl sports books that have sold really well. I’m hoping that’s just ignorance on my part. Can you think of any really popular girl sports books?
Doret: No, you’re right there aren’t any sports books featuring girls that have sold really well. But, they haven’t been given a chance. It seems like such an obvious market and I don’t know why it’s being ignored. There are readers waiting and wanting and I am not just talking about the athletes. There are others like myself who simply enjoy and appreciate the games.
Stories about who we are are so important. I remember during one of the rounds of Fail, Catherynne M. Valente wrote (and yes I know that not being able to find books about women playing sports is at a rather different level than what Cat is talking about):
Stories teach us how to survive. They tell us that our lives can be transcendent, that we can overcome almost anything, no matter how strange, that we can go into the black wood and come out again, that the witch can be burned up in her own oven, that we can find someone who fits a shoe, that the youngest, unloved child will find their way in the world, that those who suffer can become strong, can escape, can find their way into comfort and joy again. That there are secrets, and they are always worth discovering, that there are more and different creatures in the world than we can ever imagine, and not all want to eat us. Stories teach us how to win through, how to perservere, how to live.
As a child of abuse, fairy tales kept me going when I was a girl. Because Gretel could kill the witch, because Snow White could come back from death, because Rapunzel could live even in the desert--then, well, I could too. I could dry my tears and clean up the blood and keep living. This is what stories do. They say: you are worthy of the world, no less than these heroes.
And when we see story after story that has no one like us in it, a book entirely without women, a TV show where white people speak Chinese but there are no Asians visible, a movie set in California without Hispanics, image after image of a world where everyone is straight, and when we are told that it's no big deal, really, there is no race in future societies, that it's not anyone's fault if all the characters are white, that's just how they are, in the pure authorial mind, that we have no sense of humor, that we are ganging up on people because we speak our minds, this is what we hear:
You do not have a right to live. There are no stories for you, to teach you how to survive, because the world would prefer you didn't. You don't get to be human, to understand your suffering or move beyond it. In the perfect future society, you do not exist. We who are colorblind, genderblind, sexualityblind would prefer not to see you even now. In the world we make in our heads, you have been obliterated--even better, you never were. You are incapable of transcendance. You are not worthy of the most essential of human behavior. If you are lucky, we will let you into our stories, and you can learn to be a whore, or someone's mother, or someone's slave, or someone's prey. That is all you are, so pay attention: this is what we want to teach you to be.