by Madeleine Blais
Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995
After reading Larry Colton's Counting Coup a couple of months ago, I became a little bit obsessed with women's and girl's basketball. In keeping with that obsession, this book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle was repeatedly recommended to me. So, this past week, I read it.
It certainly begs comparison with Colton's book. Both books are about high school girl's basketball teams with big dreams in the early 1990s. But really, the similarities end there. To begin with, Colton's book is about poor girls in a lousy school on a Montana reservation. Blais' book is about upper-middle class girls at a good high school in Amherst, Massachusetts. The problems faced by Colton's subjects, white and (mostly) Native American, are quite different than those faced by Blais', who are largely white, with the exception of two Black girls and one Cuban. Sharon, the star of the high school team Colton follows, harbors a hope to go to a regional or community college (and she does not succeed). The stars of the team Blais follows go to Stanford and Dartmouth. Perhaps most importantly, Blais' team wins, and Colton's loses.
There are also striking differences in the authors themselves. Both Blais and Colton are journalists, but Blais is a "serious" journalist and a professor at the University of Massachusetts who says she's never played a team sport, while Colton is a former professional baseball player who writes about sports and heads up a Portland, Oregon non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of writing instruction in public schools. Maybe most importantly, Blais is a woman and a feminist reflecting on the importance of sports for women. She goes into detail about the mothers of the players she observes, how they weren't allowed to play the way their daughters are, and how they feel about that. She talks extensively about Title IX and what it has meant for women. She puts basketball in a larger context of teenage girls learning to respect themselves and their bodies and raise their voices. Colton is...not. He pays some homage to Title IX and to the importance of girls being respected as athletes, but his perspective as a middle-aged white man is by definition very different than Blais' as a woman of the same generation.
Blais' book is certainly more uplifting. The players Blais follows are headed to college. They have stable families and bright futures. If basketball doesn't work out for them, something else will. Colton's players have a much harder row to hoe. However, I still preferred Colton's book, with its focus on life on the res and the surviving vestiges of American Indian culture to Blais' look at a politically correct Massachusetts college town. Simply put, even if they aren't as talented, basketball seems to mean more to the girls with whom Colton interacts than to those in Blais' book. They need it more. Even though Blais addresses Title IX and the need for women's sports more directly, Colton's argument for it is stronger, and I care more about his players.
I would recommend both books, and I certainly think they are excellent to read together. Maybe now I'll be able to move on to another subject.