photo of author Keri Mikulski by Justin Mikulski, her husband
Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 banned the exclusion of students from programs or activities on the basis of gender in American schools. This progressive law has allowed girls’ teams to flourish at public high schools. Nonetheless, most teenaged sports books are written for boys, even though nearly as many girls play sports. It's time to address the lacuna.
In 2007 Razorbill (Penguin) started publishing the Pretty Tough series about girls who play sports. Liz Tigelaar wrote the first two novels about soccer and football. Young adult author Keri Mikulski has picked up the ball for the next four books in the series. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Keri is a member of our book review club. Her publisher sent me an ARC to review on my request.
Only the boys basketball center is tall enough to look her in the eye, but unfortunately gorgeous Zach is dating her teammate Kylie. Team dynamics are shattered when Zach dumps Kylie and starts shooting hoops with Taylor. Adding to the stress, Taylor’s best friend needs her to play fashion model for a designer competition. A self-described “people pleaser” and klutz, Taylor has to learn how to be more assertive and self-confident off the court.
“No one has ever called me ‘hot’ before. Except maybe my mom when I’m sick.”The romantic shenanigans were amusing, but I was a bit bothered by how romance ruined the girls’ game but not the boys’ game. Still, in the context of this story, it made sense, and the main character certainly took sports seriously. Taylor is a sweetheart who would make a fine role model for tween girls.
Head Games is a quick and easy read, but you had better know your Gossip Girl and teen pop culture to get all the references. Facebook takes a lot of court time too. This fun and engaging novel would appeal to reluctant readers and to sporty girls ages 10-14 years. Even a non-basketball player like me (I’m 5 foot 3 inches) could understand the plays and appreciate the drama. Keri Mikulski is on top of her game. Head Games will be released tomorrow on January 6th, 2011 in the USA. Congratulations, Keri!
From Keri's Bio Page:
"From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved sports and books. However, as a teen and tween, I fell out of love with reading. For years I never picked up books for pleasure because I couldn’t relate to the main characters. They weren’t like me. They didn’t play sports.
"Then, decades later, I witnessed many of my sporty middle school students also morph into reluctant readers. As soon as I began writing professionally, I set out to write the books to reach this audience. And here I am – living my dream."
My Interview of Keri Mikulski
Keri Mikulski (center) in her high school yearbook
Sarah: how did you end up taking over the Pretty Tough series from another author?
Keri: About three years ago, I began writing web articles for the Pretty Tough website. While writing for Pretty Tough, the brand read Screwball, asked me if I had written any other sporty books, and requested to read my work in progress. At the time, I was working on FULL COURT PRESS (which is now Head Games). I sent Pretty Tough FULL COURT PRESS and they loved it! Immediately, Pretty Tough asked me if I would be interested in writing novels for the brand. Since I absolutely adored the first two novels (written by the amazing Liz Tigelaar, executive producer of Life Interrupted), I accepted the offer and we began the process of attempting to sell the series again with Head Games through my agent.
Has this constrained your writing?
Not at all! ☺ I LOVE writing sporty books and I was honored to continue the series after Liz did such an excellent job with the first two novels. Since it’s been four years since the first two books were published (the original characters sadly graduated from Beachwood Academy), the only two elements that stayed the same are the setting and one character.
I emerged myself in California. I viewed, read, and studied everything I could get my hands on about Los Angeles. I connected with friends who live in California, spent a lot of time on the phone with Pretty Tough asking detailed questions, and I’m on my way to Los Angeles this spring. ☺
Since I’m a teacher, I spend a TON of time with teens and tweens. I have a front row seat to their technology habits. Technology has drastically changed the way teens and tweens communicate with each other and I find the subject both fascinating and scary.
The photo booth picture is of my best friend (right) and me at the same age as my protagonist.
Ha! Classic. Were you a teen athlete like your protagonist?
Yes! I LOVE sports. I played basketball, softball, and soccer, earned ten varsity letters as a senior, and served as captain to all three sports. In the photo below I'm #40, grabbing the rebound during my junior year (from my yearbook.)
I’m five foot eight inches tall. ☺
Are you still involved with sports now?
When I’m not writing or on deadline, I love, love, love to play sports. When I can, I participate in adult soccer and softball leagues, but my favorite sporty times are with my daughter and hubby.
How do you balance career and family?
Basically, I live by this rule. When I’m with my daughter, I’m with my daughter. When I’m teaching, I’m teaching. When I’m writing, I’m writing. I try to write around her schedule – write at night and in the morning.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
Actually, there are two pieces of advice I consistently refer to. A well-known author once told me, "You can only control your writing." In other words, you can’t control your sales, publicity, and/or the publishing business. And another fabulous author told me to "Write Because You Have To." I love this piece of advice because it reminds me everyday that without writing I’m not balanced. ☺
Can you give us a sneak preview of the next three books in the Pretty Tough series?
Absolutely! I’m super excited about the series. ☺ Each Pretty Tough book will follow a different athlete from Beachwood High School. The next book, Stealing Bases follows the ‘mean girl’ and softball superstar in Head Games, Kylie Collins. But, after writing the book, I love her now! ☺
Here’s the back cover of Stealing Bases:
Reformed mean girl Kylie Collins desperately wants to put the craziness of basketball season behind her and concentrate on her lifelong dream – being recruited for Division One softball. She also wants to move on from her cheater ex, Zachary Murphy, which isn’t exactly easy when Kylie’s living in his backyard guesthouse with her father after her parent’s divorce.
But when Kylie arrives at her first softball practice of the season she comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare – Amber McDonald, the best pitcher in the state.
Now, Kylie’s forced to warm the bench as Amber wows crowds again and again. With all the drama happening out on the softball diamond, Kylie finds herself drawn back to her bad habits – sabotaging people and hanging out with a certain Zachary Murphy.I’m currently writing Book 5. All I can divulge at this point is that it’s about a lifeguard. ☺
When are the other books due out?
Stealing Bases will hit bookstores on July 7, 2011. Book 5 and 6 will hit bookstores in 2012.
Thanks for having me, Sarah! ☺ Happy New Year!
Thanks, Keri, I'm looking forward to Stealing Bases.
Book Blog Watch: I’m not the only blogger who has noticed the dearth of sporty books for girls. Steph Su Reads included athletes in her list of “What’s Missing in YA Lit?” Reading in Color called for a protagonist “To be Young, Athletic and a PoC.” She goes on to list several sporty books featuring People of Color, beyond African Americans playing basketball.
Blog readers, do you have any book recommendations about teenaged girls playing sports? My work in progress, A MATCH FOR EVE, is about an American softball player who goes to England to play cricket. I could also do with some cricket book (boy or girl) recommendations.
Happy New Year!
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