A Season of Daring Greatly
Book Review: A Season of Daring Greatly
Author: Ellen Emerson White
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
By: Michelle Giesen
I have worked as a bookseller for 20 years, and every season there are books that truly move me, thanks to stellar writing, original characters and gripping storytelling. As a specialist in Children’s, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Literature at Mabel’s Fables Children’s Bookstore in Toronto, I am constantly on the hunt for new titles that have wide reaching audience appeal. If a book’s intended audience is middle school readers, but I as an adult can find a way to relate, then I would decree that novel a success! I don’t love having to switch my brain to thinking like a 12 year old in order to enjoy something. No, a great book should have the ability and capacity to reach a wide ranging audience.
Thankfully, over the last couple of decades (thank you, Harry Potter phenomenon!) thousands of authors have felt compelled to tell stories that no one else had the guts, or publisher support, or inspiration to tell. For years, the same standard books were recycled through high school English classes. Not to knock those books - they’re classics now for a reason. But contemporary tales that branch away from the typical Eurocentric, cis-gender protagonist are what’s being craved. When I was a teenager, I would have loved to find a book about a fiercely independent and skilled young woman with the same interests as me. Nowadays, there are a plethora of characters created with the intent to inspire female readers especially. As an adult reader of books for young people, many of these titles continue to speak to me as well - whether they’re tapping into a not-forgotten, younger version of myself, or the present-day dreamer I still am. I’m thrilled that I haven’t lost the ability to be inspired by fictional heroes.
A Season of Daring Greatly is a young adult novel that introduces readers to 18-year-old Jill Cafferty: an extraordinary pitcher on her high school baseball team who, for years, has caught the attention of scouts from colleges and major league teams alike. During her final exam of secondary school, she gets a call saying she's been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates Class A Short Season Team (minor leagues.) Yes, Jill has become the first woman ever to be drafted to the MLB. Her story is all about defying expectations and convincing baseball lovers everywhere she has what it takes to make it to the big show regardless of gender, tradition, and convention. Jill has a strong support system in her mother, brother and classmates. Her whole town rallies behind her. She chose this career over her acceptance to Stanford University and she's going to do everything possible to prove her worth, knowing full well not everyone wants her to succeed. Throughout her inaugural season in the minors, she has to work at least twice as hard as her male counterparts. Some are out to sabotage her, and others, like her catcher, build her up and remind her of what it means to remain professional in a career that forces athletes to do so much more than playing the game.
Author Ellen Emerson White is a kindred spirit. She's a fellow member of the Church of Baseball and has an obvious respect for the game. She impressively researched the minor league draft process. The novel does not shy away from describing in detail: contract talks, autograph signings, media obligations, the training regimen, the mental and physical stamina required to maintain and succeed on a professional team, and the emotional roller coaster that carries a player from one game to the next. It's the perfect book to carry fans through to the season opener! It was equally refreshing that Jill's appearance was not the driving force or a distracting highlight behind her interactions with others, nor was romance the focus of this book, though there was a tasty little morsel to keep readers invested. At its heart, A Season of Daring Greatly is about baseball. It's about one girl establishing her own presence as a professional, and it reads that way. Jill is not just a great GIRL pitcher, she's a great pitcher, period. She isn't represented as a cold, hard-as-nails “jock” stereotype - she is patient and compassionate with children while understanding her role in the game. Jill is layered both emotionally and professionally. Her closeness with her friends and brother demonstrates a character with heart and the ability to connect deeply with those close to her. Her inner turmoil is well documented. She is tough but human; a tough human.
It will be easy for readers to compare A Season of Daring Greatly to the television series Pitch, and that is not a terrible thing. Both protagonists are on the same career trajectory and experience the same successes and setbacks. It’s high time young readers and viewers have multiple outlets projecting inspirational female characters who demonstrate perseverance, athleticism, kindness and endurance. Bring on these storylines in any medium possible!