Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

03 June 2011

Book Review: Wonder Girl by Don Van Natta Jr. (and giveaway!)

There is a point in one's life when you grow up and realize that your sports heroes are just as human as you are, some are mean, some are as awesome as you hope and some you wish you had never rooted for. During the first few chapters of Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, I started to think it was wrong to ever idolize The Babe.

Don Van Natta does an excellent job at painting a picture of the young girl, who was nicknamed Babe, as spoiled and an awful brag. Tales of bullying classmates to play by her rules and having the muscle to back up the threats, Babe was unstoppable. She was also quite the racist by taking glee in beating up on black boys and girls in her quest to prove how tough she was.

When I mentioned her brashness to the ChiFem book club members, one of them said, "But if she were a guy, would it seem so bad?" Well, yeah...it still would be. Babe was like the Neon Deion of her generation. The LeBron of today. So cocky of her greatness that even if she was the best athlete on her basketball team, no one really rooted for her. All through her career, Babe was clearly the star. On the basketball court, when she was a one-woman track team, on the golf course and even on the Vaudeville stage. She was blessed with a universe of talet, but the Goddess left out humility and that cost her many friends.

Van Natta goes on to show the evolution of Babe. An evolution of sorts. She never seems to outgrow her desire to win, but she does move from winning to prove herself to winning for a larger and greater purpose -- the birth of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. And yes, for those of you who scoff at the fact that the league is called "Ladies," the story behind the name is in there too.

Despite my reaction to her brashness, I have to tip my hat to how well she blew apart society's view of what women could do. Before Babe, women in sports were a rarity or relegated to "pretty" sports like gymnastics and tennis. I thought of Tonya Harding a few times, when Babe's lack of girlyness was discussed. When she stepped onto the greens, she never hid her strength even when she did eventually wear more stylish clothes. And of course her strength led to questions about her sexuality and even her gender. Was Babe a lesbian or merely a man in women's clothing?

The questions didn't stop, even after she married, because no story of a champion would be complete without a love story. Whoa boy does Van Natta give us one. And one that seems to fit Babe perfectly. At first at least...Then we get to the classic, "Woman outshines her man" story when it all seems to go downhill.

I did stop at one point and put the book down to ponder the question of when does one stop being a role model and become a mere prop. How much did Babe HAVE to do in her life versus she felt she HAD to do.

Babe's story is also one of an amazing athlete who couldn't be felled by any competitor...except cancer. I truly believe she kicked cancer's ass big time, even if it did ultimately take her life.

In the end, one's life is often summed up with how one ends the race, not so much how they start out or even the glorious middle. Babe's life is one of contradictions, triumphs and honestly is quintessential of the great American Dream.While Babe didn't win over many friends in her life, her fans should continue to grow. She left a mark that changed how we view women and women as athletes.

If you are sports fan, a women's history buff or heck both, get yourself a copy from IndieBound or Powells. This was the first book I picked up after my semester was over and I devoured it in mere days. It's an easy and passionate read.

And now the giveaway....
I have three copies of this book to giveaway to readers. Just leave a comment here or on VLF's Facebook page to enter. Yes, you can comment at both places and enter twice. Winners will be chosen using Random.org. I'll start counting on VLF and then FB. So if I get 5 comments here and 2 on FB, Those on FB are entries #6 and #7. Restrictions are US and CA residents only, no PO boxes please. Make sure your comment includes your email address or I can't get the book to you.

Disclaimers: A publicist offered me a copy for review and I said "A world of yes!"

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.

4 comments:

I've always loved Babe and her entire story! Clearly I should read the book. :)

Check out our Q&A with the author of "Wonder Girl" at Women's Voices for Change. http://womensvoicesforchange.org

(P.S. I am NOT entering the book giveaway.)

This comment has been removed by the author.

We lived parallel lives, mine without the greatness. I'd love a copy of the book.