The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr 1997
Simon & Schuster
IQ "over the years coaches and parents have encouraged kids to participate in sports on the grounds that sports build character. I've always thought it was more accurate to say that they show it. You live the way you play. [...] If there is something to be known about a person, it will become evident on the court, or on the field." pg. 15
Nancy Takhiro is a high school basketball star and she is in love with Raina Webber, her biggest competitor. Raina has a girlfriend and Nancy can't work up the courage to tell her how she feels. When Nancy's father falls in love with Raina's mother, the girls soon find themselves living together. They become good friends who are fiercely competitive with each other (they play on opposing teams). Together they will face the crazy world of college recruitment. Nancy isn't ready to leave the world of high school and L.A., Raina is ready to go.
The future is unforeseeable but their senior year is here and it's going to be one long journey.
"And there were certain topics we never touched upon-our missing parents, what my father might know about me, my utter lack of love life-because we couldn't have talked about anything real without talking about what existed, and didn't exist, between us. But the irony of our holiday crisis, the unforeseen result, was that our friendship, having survived it, was actually stronger. Because of the pain we'd experienced and the knowledge we'd gained, there was a fullness to our relationship that hadn't existed before. We appreciated it now, we meant more to each other." (pg.259) This quote is rather lengthy but it sums up the feelings of both girls for a large part of the book. The Necessary Hunger doesn't really seem to have a plot. It's mostly about Nancy trying to work up the courage to tell Raina how she feels and this takes an incredibly long time (368 pages). The book is a decent length, but I had a hard time concentrating in some places and it probably could have been pared down a little. I could only take so much of Nancy talking about her passionate feelings for Raina and then not acting on them. I also got tired of watching Nancy watch Raina and Toni (Raina's girlfriend) hang out and get in arguments. The end is extremely dissatisfying and yet, realistic of young, first love.
The best part of the novel is the snippets about the lives of Nancy's teammates. I LOVED all the basketball mentions in the novel. It's set in the 1980s before the WNBA was created, so the girls are wondering what's next for them after college. Some want to play pro overseas, others don't. Some of them make costly mistakes, some aren't good enough basketball players to get scholarships, others didn't apply themselves enough in school to get academic scholarships. Most of the girls are facing junior college. Nancy and Raina are one of the lucky ones from their neighborhood. At times, I wondered if people really treat high school basketball stars the way these girls get treated. Random people stop them on the street, especially young kids in order to praise them. We have a decent basketball team and the stars of the team are quite popular, but I doubt a junior high kid is going to stop the star girl or guy player. But that could just be me. Chicago is a big city and there's lots of star players so it's hard to know them all, but then again L.A. is a big city. Anyway, the author writes great descriptions of basketball games from the atmosphere of the crowd, the peeling paint of the gym, to the adrenaline of the players. It's an intense experience and while I don't play basketball anymore, it brought back some good (and painful) memories. The predictable ultimate basketball showdown occurs between Raina and Nancy, but you might be surprised by who wins.
Next to the intense basketball scenes and the glimpses into the lives of mostly African American and Latina basketball players, the prejudices of the Black community is discussed. There is no grand coming out in this novel, Nancy and her father have never discussed her sexual orientation. Raina and her mother have talked about it and her mother accepts her. It's as simple and yet complicated as that. Nancy and the reader can't help wondering if her father knows that she's a lesbian. I was surprised by how many girls on Nancy's team were lesbians but not all their teammates knew everyone's sexual orientation (which leads to some hilarious conversations). The reactions of all the parents isn't really discussed so I'm not sure what the ratio of accepting to disbelieving parents is, but there is a good mix. Nancy and Raina must also deal with people who have a problem with their multicultural family. Claudia's (Raina's mother) friends are mostly supportive of her marriage to a Japanese American man, but she has one friend who has a real problem with the situation. It's very interesting to read about and it shows that even if you're discriminated against, you too can still discriminate against others (without even thinking about the irony). Of course there is also racism from the Japanese American community toward Claudia and racism from the white community.
The Necessary Hunger is a descriptive book with graceful writing about a wide variety of topics. it takes you on a trip to a part of L.A. that you may not see on vacation. You meet girls who really have to struggle and they don't always triumph. You witness how odd it is that those who are discriminated against think it's ok to discriminate against others. I thought Nancy's mother had an intriguing story that I wanted to learn more about (she left Nancy and Nancy's father and basically renounced her Japanese heritage) but that would have made the book even longer. The story does drag a bit, but have some patience. Almost everything about race, class, sexual orientation and basketball is covered in this book. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.
Disclosure: From the library
PS The book was written when Micheal Jordan was king (really he still is) but since it's set in the '80s, he's not really anything special just yet. There's one line that made me laugh and it went along the lines of "she wore baggy long shorts in the style of that young player Michael Jordan." (not an exact quote because I no longer have the book). I just love it, 'that young player MJ' :)
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