Title: A Season of Daring Greatly
Author: Elle Emerson White
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: February 2017
Hardcover: 432 Pages
Eighteen-year-old Jill Cafferty just made history. Her high school’s star pitcher, she is now the first woman drafted by a major league baseball team. Only days after her high school graduation, she’ll join the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class A Short Season team . . . but not everyone is happy to have her there.
On top of the pressure heaped on every pitcher, Jill must deal with defying conventions and living up to impossible expectations, all while living away from home for the first time. She’ll go head-to-head against those who are determined to keep baseball an all-male sport. Despite the reassurance of coaches and managers alike, a few of her teammates are giving her trouble. The media presence following her at each game is inescapable. And to top it all off, Jill is struggling with the responsibilities of being a national hero and a role model for young women everywhere. How can she be a role model when she’s not even sure she made the right choice for herself? Didn’t baseball used to be fun?
This literary and engrossing story of a young woman trying to mark out a place for herself in a male-dominated world will captivate fans of Friday Night Lights, The Art of Fielding, John Corey Whaley, and Laurie Halse Anderson.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Hardcover
Jill Cafferty seems to be your average, high-achieving high school senior–young, passionate, competitive, and well-rounded when it comes to her college application appeal factor. Not only is Jill driven to succeed and make straight-A’s; she’s also the star pitcher of her school’s baseball team. Tall, with big hands, solid mechanics, and a dogged work ethic, Jill is not just good or good for a girl–she’s the real deal.
When she’s drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, she also makes history as the first woman drafted by a major league ball club. Armed with her heater, her change-up, and a wicked curveball, Jill Cafferty decides to turn down Stanford to go pro at eighteen years old.
But being the first–and only–woman in the MLB is not an easy job. Jill faces extreme pressure–from her teammates, from agents, from the media, and even from her family. As training camp grows more intense, Jill grapples with the full weight of her decision, and just how far she’ll go for a game she loves.
The newest novel from Elle Emerson White, author of the beloved President’s Daughter series and several sports biographies, A Season of Daring Greatly is an early vantage point in the life of a young ballplayer in her first days as a pitcher. It’s not a rousing crowd-pleaser, feminist statement or examination of outsiders through the lens of sports like A League of Their Own or Remember the Titans, nor is it a national championship no-holds-barred nail-biter, akin to Friday Night Lights. Rather, A Season of Daring Greatly is more of a snapshot of a career–the very beginning of a story, in which a young rookie finds footing in a really big pond. This was, to me, very unexpected. While protagonist Jill has her say and gives one heartfelt speech about girls being told not to play baseball and instead encouraged to play softball, she isn’t held up as a feminist role model and she doesn’t possess a unique point of view aimed at young women following her career. Instead, Jill ascribes by the “judge me by how I play” school of thought, and focuses more on the day-to-day grittiness of training camp, life on the road, as well as the conflicts she faces (and support she receives) from fellow teammates, coaches, and club staff. A Season of Daring Greatly is nothing more and nothing less than this; it is what it is. And what it also is, at its core, is a love letter to baseball.
The novel’s simplicity and self-realization is as refreshing as it is poignant–the same can be said for the author’s careful examination of mechanics, tension, and all of the other factors that go into a rookie pitcher’s mindset when taking the mound for the first time in a professional career. The one thing that I loved about A Season of Daring Greatly, the one thing that truly resonated for me, was the love of the game. Ellen Emerson White is a clear fan and has even penned other baseball biographies–this comes through with great clarity in this novel. The routines of the clubhouse, the endless literal hunger of the players, the stretching and tearing and coaxing of muscles and nerves; all of this is present and laid bare in great detail. It’s beautiful in its own way, and certainly spoke to me as a reader–just as I hope it will speak to other fans of baseball and to Ellen Emerson White’s other fans, regardless of age or gender identification.
And yet… the thing that pains me the most is that A Season of Daring Greatly is missing a powerful, real emotional connection with its protagonist. Jill Cafferty as a pitcher is the most authentic and emotionally resonant version of the character; where the novel stumbles is in its assumptions. Jill is an affluent young white woman from a home that has been broken only by her father’s untimely death (as a member of the national guard). She’s well-educated, fairly well-off, and incredibly privileged. There isn’t, in of itself, anything wrong with this privilege–my discomfort is with the lack of examination of this privilege. Not just any young woman could have the opportunity and luck to break into a male-dominated professional sport; the assumption here is that it’s determination and genetics that gives Jill her edge (she trains hard, and is 6’2″ with the perfect hands). What A Season for Daring Greatly fails to address, however, is the opportunity that its protagonist has. Jill is not just lucky that she’s the right size and build, she’s not the only determined girl there ever was in baseball; she’s lucky in that she has an upper middle class family from a town just the right size to support her baseball dreams. That Jill doesn’t address this in her narrative makes sense, since it is a first-person narrated text. But taken in the greater, larger context? This is privilege at its most devastating–it assumes a white narrative default.
Taken on the whole, I loved this book as a baseball story. As the story of the first female professional ball player in the modern era? I wanted more.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Read a sample below:
Rating: 6 – Good. My heart wants to give it an 7, but my issues with privilege and narrative want to give it a 5.
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