I was walking around in my local B&N in early December. That’s Barnes and Noble to you non Bibliophiles.
That’s when I first stumbled upon a King title I had never heard of. It was really quite an accident. I walked past a rack of returns, and only saw King’s picture on the backside cover.
I should preface this by saying that I’ve been on a King kick for the last year. His On Writing was the first book I was assigned to read in my Master’s program. Read it cover to cover and highlighted/dog eared/and underlined it like a real textbook. But unlike a real textbook, I didn’t sell it back for $4.23 at the university book store.
The second King novel I discovered was actually his first. Carrie. It was so different from anything I had ever read before, but I absolutely loved it.
Needless to say, I’ve become hooked. I’m currently reading The Shining and consider myself fortunate that I’ve never seen the film before. I get to read it completely spoiler free.
So imagine my surprise at the book store when I picked up a copy of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
I call this surprising because as someone whose debut novel features a young female protagonist, I was shocked to discover that King had ventured into this realm of storytelling as well.
And that’s probably the first talking point about this novel. The protagonist.
Trisha McFarland is nine. Nine?! This book totally subverts everything I’ve learned in my Master’s program. There is the widely held belief in writing that if your protagonist is going to be a young child, then it is considered MG (Middle Grade) Fiction. Meaning it will have less edgy themes, plot lines, etc.
My own novel—Maiden to None—deals with a thirteen year old protagonist. There are much darker themes within my novel than what you would find in an MG work, making it a piece of YA (Young Adult) Fiction.
But I imagine King was like, nah…I’m just going to tell a story about a kid who gets lost in the woods. Toss in some colorful language and descriptions. Print. Send.
And for that I am incredibly grateful! Thank you Mr. King. It breaks the rules in all the right ways and makes for a page-turning, gripping story about the endurance of the human spirit.
I also think it’s worth noting that Trisha McFarland could be anyone. There is nothing within this story that makes me think only this particular kid could endure all the awful things she has to endure. Any character could’ve been placed into this story. Any kid could’ve questioned her faith, and seen the flaws of her family. What makes it so gripping though is that you find that you are sharing the same thoughts and concerns as this little girl.
For example, her constant checks in her backpack at the beginning of the story, where she counts and recounts her tuna sandwich and bottle of Surge (oh, did I forget to mention this takes place in the 90’s) is so similar to what I would do if placed in her situation.
What is her situation you might be asking? Spoilers!!
It’s the nineties (Yes Hanson’s Mmmbop is totally mentioned) and Trisha McFarland is separated from her arguing family—mother and brother—on a hiking trip in the Maine wilderness. Her going missing happens so quickly that you can almost blink and miss the separation. Brilliant by the way. This coming from a guy who got separated from his family at the happiest place on Earth.
What follows is a journey that transforms the helpless little girl (with an insanely good backlog of survival info) into a fierce survivor who literally faces down a bear.
Now I think what works so well about this journey is that it feels very believable at times. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Link from The Legend of Zelda.
Link is a silent protagonist in his series of games. As such, we put our own thoughts and actions into him and make him do what we wish him to do.
In a lot of ways Trisha is similar.
She worries about things like going in the wrong direction, or being able to find enough food. There is a cathartic moment in the middle of the novel when she finds an open area with thousands of nuts that are being munched on by a family of deers.
What’s probably most relatable though is Trisha’s love for baseball. It was her connection to her father, who is recently divorced from her mother. Their favorite team: The Red Sox of course.
She realizes that her little Walkman/radio is her only connection to the outside world—listening to Red Sox games and hearing of her own dire situation on a news broadcast—and she preserves this lifeline the way someone would hold onto a winning lottery ticket that they are afraid of losing.
Her relationship to Tom Gordon—her favorite relief pitcher—feels authentic. You almost begin to believe that her hallucinations of having him appear to offer her advice are real, even though she clearly says each time that he was never really there.
My heart literally sank when the batteries on her Walkman finally give out. Bottom of the ninth indeed.
Which brings me back to baseball. I LOVE baseball. No, I am not a die hard fan repping my team like most of my friends and family. But I find the sport to be a lot of fun to watch and play. And if you are searching for a read that tugs at the heartstrings of the nostalgic baseball fan in all of us, this story might be for you.
Mind you…there are a lot of baseball puns in this book. Maybe too many at times. Heck, every chapter is titled after a different inning. And while King admits that the Tom Gordon in the novel is fictional, he uses enough of the vernacular that you begin to believe this is a pro leaguer giving advice to a kid on what could be her last up to bat.
Now let’s talk about that antagonist. One of the main critiques I’ve seen about this novel is that the climax is underwhelming. I however disagree, as I tend to often do. The literal bear showing up at the end was a shock, because the way it was set up it seemed so metaphorical. But that said, I love the way King sets up her showdown with him. Not realistic maybe (her throwing a Walkman at a bear’s face most likely would’ve resulted in her immediate mauling) but damn if it’s not a cool scene.
It’s very rare a book makes me gasp out loud. But this book did exactly that. Twice.
I learned so much about writing from a child’s perspective in this novel. King has a magic with words and descriptions. I never thought someone could keep a book going about a kid falling in her own crap and crying herself to sleep every night in the woods, and somehow King made it readable. Readable? Dare I say, enjoyable.
My own WIP character has her own moment in the wilderness. I’m finally getting to the part where I get to rewrite this section, and I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot about how to go through this without cheapening the experience for the reader or myself.
In conclusion, I’d give The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon a strong 8/10. It’s not for everyone, but if you can appreciate what King is doing here, you’ll find that the book is a wonderful read that is at times scary, heartbreaking, and ultimately a rewarding journey.
Let’s just say if I ever get lost in the woods…I hope I would turn out half as successful.
P.S. Her family is just terrible in my opinion. I get that nobody’s perfect, but I felt so bad for her throughout anytime she mentioned them. What a sad—but I suppose totally realistic—mediocre life to be returning home to. Bottom line: Divorce sucks most not for the adults, but for the kiddos.
But do yourselves a favor and always keep an eye on your kids. Both if you can spare them.
Again, thank you Mr. King for being my new favorite author. Don’t be afraid to slow down on writing so I can catch up with your other 58 novels.
Now as always…
Be sure to comment on a post from February for a chance to win yourself an Amazon gift card. I should have a new original work up by next week.
Write strong, write long, write on.