________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 2. . . .September 15, 2017


In the Swish.

Dawn Green.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2016.
368 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-539-4.

Subject Headings:
Basketball for girls-Juvenile fiction.
New schools-Juvenile fiction.
Highschool girls-Juvenile fiction.
Friendship-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Janet Eastwood.

*** /4



Some people look forward to their birthdays, or Christmas, or the summer–their favourite day or time of year–because they get to be with family or their loved ones, or they like being outside, enjoying what that particular time has to offer. For me there are only two real seasons of the year – basketball season and not basketball season. And yes, with club teams, select teams, and skills camps, one could technically argue (as my sister does) that basketball season is year round. But those people (Prynne) don’t get it.

There is nothing like the actual start of a new basketball season. A zero wins–zero losses clean slate. It doesn’t matter what happened the previous year. Last season is in the books, engraved on the trophies, reminisced about in the locker room–it’s done. A new season means new teams, new games, and the optimism of the unknown. And that–the unknown – is the only thing that matters because it means that anything is possible.

This is my favourite day of the year.


Bennett Ryan loves basketball more than any other activity in the world. Playing basketball is how she feels close to her dad who had been killed in a car accident. Bennett has a goal in mind: to win a basketball scholarship to Stanford University. And when she makes the winning shot in the Oregon State Championship game at the end of her grade 11 year, Bennett seems to be right on track.

     Then Bennett’s mother becomes principal at Riverside High, home of the Storms, arch-rivals of Bennett’s old school and the team she defeated before the summer. Bennett and her sister, Prynne, are forced to switch schools. Prynne fits in immediately while Bennett stews with resentment at having to leave her friends and her team for her senior year. She especially resents having to play for the Storms. The Storms, for their part, are less than friendly to their old rival, particularly the alpha girl, Teesha, who earned the foul that gave Bennett her winning shot in last year’s championship. Coach K, however, doesn’t put up with petty rivalries. She drives her players hard, and the girls slowly become teammates, if not friends. It is with Mattie, Coach K’s daughter, that Bennett finds friendship. Mattie loves basketball and has a keen mind for strategy but can’t play because her autism makes her extremely sensitive to loud noises.

     Tensions within the team ease only as tensions between teams rise – particularly between the Riverside Storms and the Lincoln High Lady Lions, Bennett’s former home – and the State Championship game nears.

     In the Swish is narrated by Bennett, who is primarily concerned with basketball and remains largely oblivious to and unaffected by her own biases and privileges. She is several times confronted with her own blindness – to classmates on the autism spectrum, to her assumptions based on race, to the realities of poverty, to her crumbling relationships with the friends at Lincoln High – but doesn’t have a big aha! moment. What Bennett does well, though, is action. Although there is no great internal shift or realization of her own culpability, Bennett, without noting it herself, works for change. She talks with Mattie, defends her from the mockery of younger students, believes in Mattie’s ability to strategize, and finds a way for Mattie to watch a basketball game as part of the crowd. She helps a teammate who gathers and returns pop cans to help pay for her family’s groceries. She tries to put aside a bitter rivalry – and asks her rival to do the same – for the sake of the team. She even works with teammates who dislike her to get that rival on the team in the first place. Except for the rivalry, none of these issues is touched on deeply, and the change Bennett effects is too easily accomplished, which detracts from the good accomplished by the representation of these factors. Bennett adapts so easily and almost flawlessly to Matti’s style of conversation and personal norms, for instance, and the whole team seems to follow suit. This is, on one hand, almost a model to follow; on the other hand, it is unrealistic. Overall, the presence of the issues of racism, poverty, and mental conditions, even if they are touched on only the surface level, is still preferable to their absence.

     Relationships between the girls on the team form the core of the story. Whether main or side characters, the girls on the team have complex emotions; they are not divided into nice or evil, but are taken seriously as human beings. It is a pleasant change to read about girls who are competitive, who talk smack, who have tempers, who take being athletes seriously, who have confidence in their prowess, who aim for sports scholarships and care about sports. The unapologetic attitude of these athletes, even as they make mistakes and work to right their errors, is a strong point. These girls also have messy friendships – friendships ending, wary truces, slowly growing new friendships – and, in Bennett’s and Teesha’s cases, messy relationships with their mothers who are portrayed as adults with goals and problems of their own rather than as mere antagonists.

     Another strong point, and one which may particularly appeal to readers involved in sports, is the contrast in coaching styles and ethics between Coach K of the Storms and Coach Paige of the Lady Lions, both of whom are highly competitive and demanding of their players. Bennett’s perspective shift as she looks back at her old team from the outside is an important, if understated, moment in her character development, and her evolving relationships with her coaches past and present reflects her growth.


Janet Eastwood is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia.

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