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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

'Hooked' by Liz Fichera

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

When Native American Fredericka 'Fred' Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school's golf team, she can't say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred's presence on the team isn't exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred. But there's no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile...

Fredericka 'Fred' Oday has just been offered the chance of a lifetime – to join her school’s golf team and possibly get noticed by some college scouts. Fred can’t believe it, that she could be the first person in her family to go to college and all because Coach Lannon says she has the most natural swing he’s ever seen. Especially since Fred taught herself to play golf from watching the club house members playing where her dad works, as groundskeeper. 

But Fred knows her mum won’t be happy with Fred getting grandiose ideas of college scholarships – especially since she thinks Fred is destined for a dead-end waitressing job at the casino with her. And she definitely won’t like her joining the boys’ golf team at school, playing with those rich white kids.

Because Fred is of the River People, and lives on the local Indian reservation and, like all other ‘rez’ kids, she doesn’t have a lot to do with the white class populace at school. 

And then Fred joins the golf team, unknowingly taking the place of Seth Winter whose bad attitude and partying helped to get him kicked off. By taking Seth’s place, Fred has incurred his wrath, and that of his best friend and fellow golfer, Ryan Berenger.

But golf is Fred’s one escape – from the nights her mum drinks and gets mean, from her dad maybe leaving again, from feeling invisible at school and hopelessly dreaming about a life off the reservation.

This is Fred Oday’s one chance, and she’s going to try her best to seize it. 

On the flipside is Ryan Berenger – golf star, golden boy with a girlfriend called Gwynith. Except Ryan’s home life isn’t so great – his mum is always at work, probably because his dad is holding hands with his hairdresser at the mall. His little sister, Riley, isn’t a fan of his friends, but they’re all Ryan’s got when his family life feels so hollow. Then Fred Oday comes along and takes his best friend’s spot on the golf team, not to mention she has him thinking about her and her kind eyes, tanned shoulders and curling hair all the time and inching closer to betraying his best friend. 

‘Hooked’ is the first book in a new young adult series by Liz Fichera. 

I had issues with this book. They started with these small, niggling and unsettling thoughts that I managed to push aside because I was enjoying the bones of the story…but by book’s end those niggling, unsettling thoughts were piled atop one another and pretty hard for me to ignore. 

First, let me say that I love a good ‘wrong side of the tracks/Romeo and Juliet’ story. I have done ever since I saw ‘Pretty in Pink’ and developed a wee crush on Andrew McCarthy, whose cool-guy character Blane (such a pompously cool name!) fell for sweet social sub-set, Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), though he was momentarily swayed by his best bud’s diversionary tactics (James Spader as Steff – “that girl was, is, will always be nada!”). So, I loves me a good opposites-attract, upstairs-downstairs high school romance. Love it! That’s why I had high hopes for ‘Hooked’, which is not only a ‘wrong side of the tracks’ romance, but is also of the sports-themed YA variety. I really liked the pitch – of a Native American girl joining her school’s all-male golf team. I like this because of the incongruity of a young woman dominating in a sport that is often associated with middle-aged white guys wearing plaid pants and talking business-mergers between tee-offs. However, while I liked the ‘bones’ of this story and think it had plenty of potential, it all fell apart for me in the execution.

First off, I have an issue with the cover (both US and international). When I found out this book had a Native American protagonist, I took umbrage at both covers not depicting the character’s ethnicity – it reminded me of a recent post by the Young Adult Library Services Association who wrote a column called ‘It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers’. ‘Hooked’, unfortunately, is another example of YA book covers that miss the mark by not representing the minority characters within. Never mind that neither cover reveals this to be a golf-themed book, let alone sports-related at all (that’s another insult – that this book has clearly been marketed to the romance YA sector when YA sports books, especially with a young female in the sporty lead, are also under-represented!). 

On the topic of ‘Hooked’ being a sports book… I would have actually liked more of the sport, since that was what ‘hooked’ me in the blurb. Fred doesn’t really get too much into the terminology of golf (a sport many young readers would be unfamiliar with, and I, for one would have liked to be educated). The closest this book gets to being a really immersive, sports YA is at the end with the ‘Golf Girl Gab’ glossary of golf terms. I just found myself wishing that Fichera had revelled more in this being a golf YA book – and what a quirky hook that is, particularly when it’s a Native American girl who is the stand-out golf star of her school’s all boy team. 

The coach stayed with me till we reached the tee box. “Don’t mind those sports reporters, Fred. I’ll keep an eye out for them. They’re only doing their job.” 
I nodded. “But why aren’t they asking anyone else questions?” 
“They will. For now you’re the novelty.” 
“Because I’m a girl?” Or an Indian girl? 
Coach Lannon smiled and pushed his sunglasses above his forehead like he wanted to make sure I saw the meaning in his eyes. He leaned closer. “Because you’re good.”

My second, but ultimately smallest issue, was with the teen lingo Fichera has in the book. She has her young male characters saying things like “sweet deal” and “chillax” and I just cringed every time I read such words and phrases. It’s like when your mum says; “cool” or your dad says; “dude” – it’s wrong, just wrong, and dates a book rather quickly.

No, my biggest complaint I reserved for the entire Native American aspect of ‘Hooked’. 

Look, I loved the idea that this book had a minority protagonist – LOVED it. But the book unsettled me for Fichera’s portrayal of life on the ‘rez’. For one thing, she lets a few racist remarks lie. Like when Seth repeatedly calls Fred 'Pocahontas', and while that's establishing his character in the beginning - I found myself waiting for Ryan or Fred or one of the other rez kids to pipe up and call Seth out on his racism. Nothing. This also happened when young characters (repeatedly) claimed that they could buy alcohol easily on the rez because Indians will do anything for money, including letting underage kids buy beer. I really think Fichera needed an anti-racism rant by one of the characters (preferably Ryan) at some point in this book, instead she let those racist remarks lie. 

Then there's the fact that she gave Fred’s mum a drinking problem. Yes, it’s a nasty stereotype – but Fichera could have potentially justified it if she’d made it a real focus and explored the reasons behind the addiction. Instead Fred talks vaguely about her mother being bitter about how her life has ended up, and that’s why she drinks – but we get no more explanation than that and there is absolutely no (believable) resolution to her mother’s problem except that she decides to turn over a new leaf by book's end. Furthermore, Fred mentions in passing that her devoted father already left the family once before coming back for Fred and her brother Trevor (we’re led to believe he reached a breaking point with his wife’s drinking) but this subject is never broached again. I was left wondering if Fred was always walking on eggshells around both her parents – afraid of one’s drunken ire, and the other’s potential to walk out again. 

Fred’s mother and her problems further confused me when Fred and Ryan bond over their mutual terrible family life. Except Ryan’s idea of a terrible family is his doctor mother who works all the time and his father who he catches at the mall with another woman (though his father has a reason for what Ryan saw). These, to me, were not equal family struggles. Fichera lumped Fred with the majority of familial problems (again, I wondered if this was because she thought her ethnicity deserved a heap more ‘issues’?!) and turned Ryan into a ‘poor little rich kid’ in the process. I mean, the Oday family get their power cut off, don’t own a phone and the mother is an alcoholic, but Ryan practically lives in a mansion and is sometimes hunkered down by fleeting thoughts of his dad’s infidelity. And, on the topic of Ryan and his father’s cheating – this was another plot point that got left by the wayside and completely forgotten by book’s end. In fairness, I know Fichera has a sequel book coming out in 2014 which is about Ryan’s little sister, Riley, and one of Fred’s friends from the rez, Sam Tracy – so it’s possible that Riley could pick up the baton-plot of their cheating father. But if that was the case then I needed a cliffhanger to that secondary plot to carry over into Riley’s story. As it stands, the forgotten plot of Ryan’s cheating father (which was his big ‘issue’) worked to further highlight how Fichera heaped Fred’s character with the bulk of ‘woe is me’.

And then there’s the romance… Urgh. There is a pinch of ‘insta love’ to Ryan and Fred, which is awful since there was great potential for enemy-turned-crush what with Fred getting off on the wrong foot with Ryan for taking his best friend’s spot on the golf team. What troubled me with the romance in Fichera’s book is that she essentially had what should have been a sports book with a hint of romance but turned it into a romance book with a hint of golf. The ‘insta love’ between Ryan and Fred was so coy and insipid that it made certain events in the novel seem blown WAY out of proportion. For instance, Ryan and Fred share one kiss, quickly followed by a spanner in the works for their budding romance but Fred takes the hit so badly that she mopes for a month. Now, I could believe moping for a month if she and Ryan had entered into a relationship and the first plot hurdle came a couple of months into their courtship. I could believe it if good girl Fred had lost her virginity to Ryan, or was at least getting so serious with him that she was considering it. But, one kiss? Seriously? Considering that these kids are nearly seniors, I found it hard to believe that they’d get into such a heartbroken funk when the entirety of their relationship was a make-out session. 

I also hated the ‘bad guy’ of the book, Seth Winters. He’s a one-dimensional villain, and all he was missing was a moustache to twirl and an evil cackle. 

I really wish Fichera had melded the golf and Native American aspects of the book better. And it’s even more frustrating because I think she had an opportunity to do so. She gives us two citations in the text, one in chapter one, the other in chapter eleven – things like explaining that a Grass Dance is a Native American ceremonial dance expressing harmony with the Universe. But after those two, we never see the citations again. I thought that could have been a clever way to incorporate both golf terms and Native American factoids throughout the book for an interesting mash. And the second citation used is not clinical, it brings Fred’s voice into it as she’s explaining that ‘rez’ is short for reservation; “It’s what all the cool Indian kids say. I try to be cool when I can.”  That was great – but that personalized citation is used once. ONCE! It both made me wonder what the point was, and why it was allowed to go to waste. 

But back to the Native American aspect… yeah, this bugged me. From the white-washed front cover, to the mother’s racist stereotype drinking problem and a character called George Trueblood, who is portrayed like a caricature of a Native American, but Fichera explains this away by saying not even the elders of the community take George seriously but let him think he’s an Indian chief. Seriously? In the book’s acknowledgements, Fichera thanks: “The Native American communities throughout Arizona and the American Southwest. Thank you for sharing your enduring spirit, beautiful cultures and lands.” – I’m still not sure if that means Fichera actually went out and spoke to Native Americans and got involved with their culture and maybe gave the 'Hooked' manuscript to some elders to read and offer suggestions, or if she thought simply being from Arizona and in close proximity to Native American lands would suffice. 

This book had good bones. The young adult readership would have benefited from a book that not only featured a Native American female protagonist but one who was also a rising star in an unlikely sport. Unfortunately what we get is a romance book with a pinch of golf, some questionable stereotyped characters and a plot that falls so flat it’s in the bunker.


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