I came to love basketball later in life than most fans. I was a junior in high school, and the University of Kansas had risen to the top of my list of college options. My grandma had been a KU fan for years, and her enthusiasm mixed with my own excitement at the prospect of heading to college, especially a school where basketball is king. Before I knew it, I had learned what a ball screen was, and I've spent every March since 2002 screaming at the TV.
So, as a basketball fan, I was really into Nina Revoyr's debut novel, originally published in 1997 and set in the mid-to-late '80s. The narrator is Nancy Takahiro, a standout forward on her high school team in inner city LA. As a six-footer with a quick first step, Nancy has been getting attention from college scouts for pretty much her entire high school career. She loves the game of basketball, and she knows it's her ticket out of Inglewood.
Nancy's life becomes more complicated when her father starts dating the mother of a highly-touted player from a different school, Raina Webber. Nancy has had feelings for Raina for a long time—feelings that Raina hasn't reciprocated. When their parents move in together, Nancy and Raina will have to navigate a minefield of issues, on and off the court. They're both incredibly fierce competitors, and emotions run as high and hard as the girls do in practice.
There's so much going on in this novel besides basketball. Nancy's father and Raina's mother have to deal with backlash from their friends over their inter-racial relationship (Nancy's father is of Japanese descent, while Raina's mother is African-American). Nancy has to find a way to swallow her jealousy every time she sees Raina with her girlfriend, Toni. Both their parents have good jobs, so the family isn't living in poverty, but life in their neighborhood isn't always easy or safe. And after all the high school games are finally over, Nancy and Raina are each going to have to choose a college, decisions that will have ripple effects throughout their entire lives.
The basketball scenes are well-placed, building tension throughout the book to a showdown that feels inevitable, though I never could have predicted the outcome. Those scenes on the court are where Revoyr's narration shines the brightest. I could see perfectly every pass, every shot, down to the last heartbreaking second. (Of course, if you don't have at least a basic grasp of the game, those scenes won't carry as much of a punch.) And I didn't live in LA in the '80s, but to my ear, Revoyr's dialogue rings true—exactly how I'd imagine players jawing to each other on the court.
I had to delve deep into the backlist for this one—it's not terribly often these days I'm reading books written in the '90s—but I'm so glad I did. And I'll definitely be checking out more of Revoyr's books in the future.