Madison’s a girl who likes sports. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal, but two things happen the summer of 1980 to make her life more complicated. First, Casey moves in and “steals” Madison’s best friend, Sara, with her tube tops, lip gloss, and perfectly manicured nails. Suddenly Sara is no longer interested in bike riding and swimming at the lake. Madison agonizes over not only the loss over her friend — wondering how they could have gone such vastly different directions in such a short of time — but also in figuring out and justifying her own wants and desires. She wants boys to pay attention to her, but they don’t because she’s not labeled, and doesn’t dress like, a “pretty girl”. She spends hours in front of a mirror, wondering what the implications of lip gloss are. And, not since Are You There God, it’s Me, Margaret, have I read about a character who’s as obsessed with her breasts. Madison’s always focusing on them; they’re sources of pride (they’re larger than the other girls), and resentment (same reason) for her.
The second big thing, and probably the more defining one, is that Madison decides to play in the boy’s baseball league. She’s a brilliant pitcher, and is encouraged by her older brother to test her skill in the league (since there isn’t a girl’s league). Because of this, she makes waves in her little town. Some people want to make her a pariah: she’s a girl, she has an unfair advantage because no one will want to hurt her, she’ll bring down the level of the game. Others, her mother included, want to make her out to be a trailblazer, a feminist, someone who stands up for women’s rights. Madison, refreshingly, just wants to play the game. She wins the boys on her team over by her hard work and skill, even though there’s constant competition between her and the other pitcher on the team. And, aside from the desire to get rid of her breasts (she wears a swimsuit under her uniform, so her left boob doesn’t “poke through” the “O” on the team name), she’s more comfortable around boys in her baseball uniform than otherwise.
This is a fun look at a girl’s desire to just be herself, and dealing with the conflicting interests in her life — there’s some sub-plots that involve her divorced parents and a rock star that moves in across the street, too — and finding a way to be her best self. It’s not a perfect book, but it sure is enjoyable to read.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)