Saturday, February 4, 2017

Dust Bowl Girls

Title:  Dust Bowl Girls
Author:  Lydia Reeder
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1616204664 / 978-1616204662

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Doll Harris crouched in ready position, took a deep breath, and focused on the basketball now in enemy territory."

Favorite Quote:  "Basketball passing, flow, and creativity. Wait and see how the play unfolds, and then react without expectations. In other words, let the plays develop w while meeting your opponents head on. It takes a lot of heart, and that's how we'll win."

In the 1930s, faced with drought and depression, people needed hope and a story. This is such a story. From the back farms of Dust Bowl Oklahoma came young women who formed an unlikely basketball team. A dream team, if you will. They do not seem so at the beginning, but they go on to have the dream season. The classic underdog wins big.

Have you ever heard of Sam Babb? I have not. Sam Babb is the man behind this story. The author, Lydia Reeder, is his grandniece. Having heard her uncle's story, she spend two years researching this book. Sam Babb was the Oklahoma Presbyterian College (OPC) Cardinals women's basketball team. He recruited his talent from the local schools and the local families. He promised a scholarship for a college education if the girl came and played for the Cardinals. This was a gift for many, who could never dream of college otherwise because of family and financial reasons.

This book captures a moment - a season - in history in great detail. Every portion of the book shows the research done. It incorporates Sam Babb's life and history, a history of Oklahoma and the school, and the time of the Depression. It captures the sport of basketball, from the rigorous practice schedule to the rules to the rivalries to the games. Fans of basketball will find a lot about the sport in the book. People with an interest in Oklahoma history will certainly find that.

I find myself looking for the people. The connection I do not find in the book is with the young women themselves. By the end, I know the history, but I don't know the individuals. Sadly, in writing this review, I find myself flipping through the book to remind myself of the names of the young women.

As such, the book becomes a somewhat dry retelling of history rather than the powerful narrative of these young women, who are away from home for the first time and for the opportunity of a lifetime. The book attempts to set up a rivalry as the "drama" for the book, but truly that rival is more the ideal these young women were striving to achieve. Told differently, their journey from farm to school to a team to a national championship is a dramatic enough story. Equally as powerful could be Sam Babb's own history; the book gives a glimpse of his journey but then shifts back to a retelling of this moment in history.

The marketing for the book compares it to The Boys in the Boat. That book anchored its story to one main character, building the well researched history but providing the reader an anchor for the narrative. This book fails to do the same. The attempt is there. Sam Babb's back story is given as is, to some extent, the story of Doll Harris, one of the players. However, I never find that connection with either one that kept me riveted in The Boys in the Boat. This one leaves with with an interesting bit of history I did not know about, but not a memorable book that will stay with me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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