In this YA novel, a teenage girl deals with family, relationships, and limitations, growing up in the process.
For 16-year-old Francie Mills, tennis is the only thing that matters and the only thing she can control. She’d rather ignore her doctor’s warning to stop stressing torn cartilage in her knee than go without the freedom she feels on the court. She certainly has no power over her father Hank’s drinking and how it makes him obnoxious and embarrassing. Hank coordinates transportation for movie shoots, and on location with him in Austin, Texas, Francie meets 17-year-old Chet Jones, who plays with Blues Harp Jones, a band appearing in the film. Like her, Chet lives in Southern California, though he possesses an appealing Aussie accent. He’s also cute, charming, understanding about her father, and wants to keep in touch. But Francie struggles with self-consciousness, anger, and her father’s criticism: “he made her feel like a big, fat, worthless, useless, nothing loser.” Eddie, a would-be Martin Scorsese and brother of Francie’s friend Stella, also likes Francie, but he seems safe where Chet is exciting. As Francie struggles with her feelings, her tennis, and her father’s alcoholism, she learns some hard truths and comes to a new understanding about human connections. In her debut novel, Schubert captures the melodramatic roller-coaster emotions that come with being a teenager: “Chet had to write to her. Or she would disappear into a black, hopeless abyss.” The theme does get overworked, however, and readers may tire of Francie’s self-absorption; at times, she seems more embarrassed by her dad than worried about him. Also overworked to the point of tedium are sentence fragments and many sentences beginning with “And.” It’s meant to convey urgency and drama, but overuse robs the technique of effect. A screenwriter and film editor, Schubert uses her insider knowledge well to provide an intriguing background for Francie, friends, and family among the nonfamous entertainment world of struggling bands and costume assistants. Another plus—Chet and Eddie aren’t black hat/white hat romantic choices but complex individuals.
A well-described setting adds strength to this coming-of-age novel.