Taylor Jenkins Reid is back with “Carrie Soto Is Back: A Novel.” Avid fiction readers may recognize her name from her popular titles, “Daisy Jones & The Six,” “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,” and “Malibu Rising.” Her newest novel also features a powerful female protagonist: Carolina Soto.
The novel starts with legendary tennis athlete Carrie Soto and her father/ex-coach, Javier Soto, watching the brutal competitor Nicki Chan tie Carrie’s Grand Slam record. Carrie has won 20 Grand Slam titles, and Chan’s victory at the start of the book catalyzes Carrie’s quest to return to the sport and hold her record.
Before Carrie can start her quest, Jenkins Reid gives the reader some context about Carrie’s childhood and tennis career. Soto grew up playing tennis every day with her father, a former tennis champion himself. From the first time she held a tennis racket, her father insisted that she was destined to become the greatest tennis player of all time.
Carrie begins competing professionally before even graduating high school and wins more and more Grand Slam titles. However, her arrogant, cold attitude does not win her very many allies. She is nicknamed “The Battle-Axe” by sportscasters because of her hardened disposition. She needs to win at any cost, and she does not care about making nice with her opponents.
As Carrie ages, she faces the harsh effects of professional sports on an aging body. She retires, but her toughest mountain to climb is still ahead of her. When Chan ties her for Grand Slam titles, Soto decides to return to the sport at age 37 to win another Grand Slam title against Chan. Carrie Soto is back!
Even if you aren’t an athlete, or even if you know next to nothing about tennis, there is plenty to delve into with this story. Fans of empowered women, tender family relationships, dynamic characters and stories about persistence and hard work will love this book.
It’s no secret: women’s sports receive significantly less coverage than men’s. The stories of great female athletes are reported on significantly less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, female athletes are criticized more because the public and media expect them to act humble, sweet and friendly and look primped and beautiful at all times. Soto is ambitious to the extent of being downright bloodthirsty. She deserves every win she gets, and she isn’t shy about telling people about it. This attitude opens up a discourse about the psychology of athletes, particularly female athletes, and how the media impacts that.
The mistreatment of female and older athletes and the expectations that the media imposes on them is a recurring theme that Jenkins Reid opens up in this book. Carrie Soto is the representation of thousands of female athletes whose voices have been squashed.
Even though the story is fictional, Jenkins Reid creates a protagonist that is so raw to the reader because of how flawed she is. The reader knows that Soto is rude and standoffish. She isn’t nice, and she isn’t likable. She rarely lets her walls down. But the reader roots for her comeback through the very last pages of the book because of how determined her character is. Because this book is written from Soto’s first-person perspective, the reader wants it with her.
One of the most important elements of the story is Soto’s relationship with her father. Javier is tough during Soto’s childhood, but the reader sees them grow together significantly. By the end of the book, she and her father transform into completely different people. Jenkins Reid creates characters that are as dynamic and malleable as real human beings.
Her competitors, even though they are minor characters, have their own personalities and create high stakes for Soto. Chan’s character is particularly compelling, as she admires her opponent but also wants to defeat her in competition.
One expansion that VALLEY would have wanted from this book was a prequel with more information about Carrie’s childhood and career, or even a love story about her parents. Although she covers this subject matter somewhat in a lengthy flashback at the beginning of the book, Jenkins Reid could have opened up a whole other world. She gives us little information about Carrie’s mother, who dies when Carrie is very young and Javier could have had a whole book of his own!
One of Jenkins Reid’s specialties is incorporating characters from her other books into each new story. Her stories co-exist in their own universe. Soto’s name appears in “Malibu Rising” so readers of Jenkins Reid’s other works may notice those Easter eggs popping up throughout this new story.
Readers of “Daisy Jones & The Six” saw how Jenkins Reid doesn’t just use narrative in her story. Similar to the script style in Daisy’s story and the newspaper clippings in “Malibu Rising,” Jenkins Reid uses multimedia in Soto’s story. She often includes sportscaster transcripts talking about Soto’s victories, losses and career, in general, to bring another layer of dimensionality to the story. This is especially useful to the reader because the narrative is written in first-person, so these multimedia snapshots give the reader a broader picture of how the media sees Carrie Soto.
Soto is not a relatable character to everyone. She is unapologetic, egotistical and often rude to critical of those who love her. She provides a window into the hardened, bumpy road to becoming a champion. If you enjoy reading about unique, powerful stories, check out “Carrie Soto Is Back.”
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