In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle

They were a talented team with a near-perfect record. But for five straight years, when it came to the crunch of the playoffs, the Amherst Lady Hurricanes -- a "finesse" high school girls' basketball team of nice girls from a nice town -- somehow lacked the scrappy, hard-driving desire to go all the way. Now led by the strong back-court of All-American Jamila Wideman and t...

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Title:In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle
Author:Madeleine Blais
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Edition Language:English

In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle Reviews

  • Mirjam

    Was inspired to re-read this one recently, almost 20 years after the first time I read it, and wow, will time make you experience a book differently. But you already knew that, I hope.

    I like "In These Girls" just as much, but for a whole new set of reasons, but mainly: the journalism. The reporting and the writing, the beautiful depiction of truth as related, remarkably, to both a particular community and to a national culture.

    Inspired anew, because it was such a thorough and impressive reminde

    Was inspired to re-read this one recently, almost 20 years after the first time I read it, and wow, will time make you experience a book differently. But you already knew that, I hope.

    I like "In These Girls" just as much, but for a whole new set of reasons, but mainly: the journalism. The reporting and the writing, the beautiful depiction of truth as related, remarkably, to both a particular community and to a national culture.

    Inspired anew, because it was such a thorough and impressive reminder that the seemingly mundane rarely ever is, that there are stories worth mining and telling everywhere and always and that a well-meaning, open-hearted reporter can connect the dots in all-important ways... that stand up, unfortunately in some ways, for at least a couple of decades.

  • Josie

    A great book about over coming challenges! Super inspiring!

  • Sean Elliot

    Reading Amy Bass' "One Goal" last month reminded me of this book (which I read over 20-years ago) and inspired me to re-visit the story. The similarities between "In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle" and "One Goal" are largely superficial, they are both basically sports stories about teams that lose one year and how they drive themselves to win the next. It's a theme in sports journalism as old as sport itself I suspect.

    In any case, this book has stood the test of time brilliantly. It's kind of re

    Reading Amy Bass' "One Goal" last month reminded me of this book (which I read over 20-years ago) and inspired me to re-visit the story. The similarities between "In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle" and "One Goal" are largely superficial, they are both basically sports stories about teams that lose one year and how they drive themselves to win the next. It's a theme in sports journalism as old as sport itself I suspect.

    In any case, this book has stood the test of time brilliantly. It's kind of remarkable to read a story of teen athletes before the age of smart phones and social media. But, seeing as One Goal is a story of teen athletes with smart phones and social media and the story still has most of the same elements I'm not any less pleased with this book.

    I read this book originally in 1996 ... the year after it was published and the year after the UConn women's basketball team's undefeated national championship that largely put women's collegiate basketball on the national media landscape. The game had been relegated to the back pages (if at all) of sport sections. I know that the folks out west and down south still resent UConn and the media dynamics that created the spectacle. As someone who started covering women's college basketball in the late 1980's and rode that media wave to covering his first Final Four that year I feel like I have been on the front lines for a long time. This book is just a brilliant installment in the story. Especially because it chronicles a season that took place before UConn's "magic" run in '94-'95 this book really resonates. The story of the Amherst Regional High School Hurricanes of '92-'93 is the story of the seeds being sown for what we have today; a professional women's basketball league ESPN prime time coverage, huge media crowds at games and the NCAA tournament, teams from all over the country competing at the Final Four and winning championships and girls nationwide playing the game and dreaming of that pro career.

    Blais took her interest in a quirky local story and turned it into a story with lasting impact. Girls today, the women playing college and pro ball today, should read this book and learn about the women who paved the way for them.

    I had to check out the re-issue of the book (I own a 1995 copy) to read Blais' two-page afterward detailing the lives of her protagonists after the events of the book and I was even more delighted, thanks to Google and the web, to read a story about a reunion of the team held 25-years after that 1993 title game.

    If you live sports stories, great sports journalism in the long form, and or women's basketball, READ THIS BOOK!

  • Martin

    A really good book for any youth coach, woman and/or girls advocates, or just person seeking inspiration. I loved this book and it made me better at supporting girls and women in sports and business. But it's also a good read with compelling characters.

  • Grace

    After reading Larry Colton's Counting Coup a couple of months ago, I became a little bit obsessed with women's and girl's basketball. In keeping with that obsession, this book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle was repeatedly recommended to me. So, this past week, I read it.

    It certainly begs comparison with Colton's book. Both books are about high school girl's basketball teams with big dreams in the early 1990s. But really, the similarities end there. To begin with, Colton's book is about poor g

    After reading Larry Colton's Counting Coup a couple of months ago, I became a little bit obsessed with women's and girl's basketball. In keeping with that obsession, this book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle was repeatedly recommended to me. So, this past week, I read it.

    It certainly begs comparison with Colton's book. Both books are about high school girl's basketball teams with big dreams in the early 1990s. But really, the similarities end there. To begin with, Colton's book is about poor girls in a lousy school on a Montana reservation. Blais' book is about upper-middle class girls at a good high school in Amherst, Massachusetts. The problems faced by Colton's subjects, white and (mostly) Native American, are quite different than those faced by Blais', who are largely white, with the exception of two Black girls and one Cuban. Sharon, the star of the high school team Colton follows, harbors a hope to go to a regional or community college (and she does not succeed). The stars of the team Blais follows go to Stanford and Dartmouth. Perhaps most importantly, Blais' team wins, and Colton's loses.

    There are also striking differences in the authors themselves. Both Blais and Colton are journalists, but Blais is a "serious" journalist and a professor at the University of Massachusetts who says she's never played a team sport, while Colton is a former professional baseball player who writes about sports and heads up a Portland, Oregon non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of writing instruction in public schools. Maybe most importantly, Blais is a woman and a feminist reflecting on the importance of sports for women. She goes into detail about the mothers of the players she observes, how they weren't allowed to play the way their daughters are, and how they feel about that. She talks extensively about Title IX and what it has meant for women. She puts basketball in a larger context of teenage girls learning to respect themselves and their bodies and raise their voices. Colton is...not. He pays some homage to Title IX and to the importance of girls being respected as athletes, but his perspective as a middle-aged white man is by definition very different than Blais' as a woman of the same generation.

    Blais' book is certainly more uplifting. The players Blais follows are headed to college. They have stable families and bright futures. If basketball doesn't work out for them, something else will. Colton's players have a much harder row to hoe. However, I still preferred Colton's book, with its focus on life on the res and the surviving vestiges of American Indian culture to Blais' look at a politically correct Massachusetts college town. Simply put, even if they aren't as talented, basketball seems to mean more to the girls with whom Colton interacts than to those in Blais' book. They need it more. Even though Blais addresses Title IX and the need for women's sports more directly, Colton's argument for it is stronger, and I care more about his players.

    I would recommend both books, and I certainly think they are excellent to read together. Maybe now I'll be able to move on to another subject.

  • Abby Bruins

    I enjoyed reading Madeleine Blais's

    . The Amherst High Lady Hurricanes basketball team played hard every season, but consistently fell short of the championship trophy. Blais really projects the attitudes of each of players on the team. Even though the girls struggle to get along off the court, they are able to connect well while playing because of their love for the sport, the game, and for the dream of being a championship team. The Lady Hurricanes put their min

    I enjoyed reading Madeleine Blais's

    . The Amherst High Lady Hurricanes basketball team played hard every season, but consistently fell short of the championship trophy. Blais really projects the attitudes of each of players on the team. Even though the girls struggle to get along off the court, they are able to connect well while playing because of their love for the sport, the game, and for the dream of being a championship team. The Lady Hurricanes put their minds and skills to the test, but come out victorious, when they end their season with a perfect record and a championship title.

    Blais makes strong points about playing sports that I find relatable to my own sports experience. The girls on the team learn that long, hard practices will eventually pay off. Sometimes I ask myself after the first two and a half hours of practice, is it really worth this? The answer is yes. A chance at becoming the state champions is not one to be messed around with. It is an honor and a personal victory. Another important point to consider is that the Lady Hurricanes were able to bounce back from a rough ending of their previous season. The girls were so close to clinching the championship title, but they let the fear of losing take away their hope. Blais wants the reader to recognize that every season, every game, anything can happen. As my coach always says, "the game doesn't know who is supposed to win". In 1993 the girls finally switched on their "hope muscle" and fought all the way to the championship game. The Lady Hurricanes remind me a lot of my softball team because our team had made it far into the playoffs every year. However for the last twelve or so years, all of the times we've made it to state semi-finals, our team comes up short of a win. However, we too shake off the bad breaks and starts fresh the following spring. Lastly, Blais stresses the importance of teamwork and how essential it is to creating a championship team. When a team has good chemistry and patience with one another, it is more likely that the team will succeed. Blais's points relate to all sports, not just basketball.

    I recommend this book to any athlete looking for a little motivation to be a better teammate, captain, or player. Every athlete desires a chance for the gold. These girls are the perfect example of what hope, perseverance, hard work, and big dreams can give you.

  • Mo

    you know i wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style, as it hung out in a weird limbo between literary narrative and non-fiction journalism. there was too much description of the quirks of the pioneer valley, more than necessary to provide setting. that said and done, this book is not good because of its literary prowess. it is good because it tells the story of girls: strong girls, bold girls, girls who never gave up. it’s a quick, light read.

  • Kate

    Three stars if you went to UMass in the early 1990s, or have another connection to the Amherst area at that time. Three and a half stars if you attended a small seminar class with Blais while she was writing this book. If none of those apply to you, you'd probably give it two stars.

    Blais's class, we were reading current contemporary non-fiction books, including Friday Night Lights. At the end of the semester she held a panel with several of the authors we read, including Buzz Bissinger. I feel t

    Three stars if you went to UMass in the early 1990s, or have another connection to the Amherst area at that time. Three and a half stars if you attended a small seminar class with Blais while she was writing this book. If none of those apply to you, you'd probably give it two stars.

    Blais's class, we were reading current contemporary non-fiction books, including Friday Night Lights. At the end of the semester she held a panel with several of the authors we read, including Buzz Bissinger. I feel this book was inspired by Bissinger's success with FNL.

    I enjoyed the descriptions of Amherst in 1992, because I was there then. Not sure you'd need so much detail about the town if you never lived there, though. The tone of the town doesn't necessarily inform girls' basketball, in the same way the flavor of Odessa, Texas informed football in FNL.

    A decent read about girls' sports at a particular moment in history, before professional women's teams. Though Blais tries to help us know most of the girls on the team, it feels a little skewed toward the point of view of Jen Pariseau, one of two co-captains. Perhaps Blais spent more time with Jen than other players.

    I immediately Googled Jamila Widener (the other co-captain) after I finished this book, because the epilogue mentions her college basketball team (Stanford) playing in the final four of the NCAA tournament. I was curious whether she had any other tournament appearances after the book was published. I was not surprised to learn she played for several years in the WNBA. I was surprised, however, to learn that she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with her famous father, John Edgar Wideman. A main focus of the SI article is Jamila's brother, who murdered his roommate at a camp when he was 16 and is still serving a life sentence. Why was this not mentioned in Blais's book? Blais mentions the personal lives of all the players. Certainly the team members must have been aware of the situation. Perhaps many Amherst residents knew, as well. I questioned the book and its spin, after learning of this omission.

    I understand that the focus of the book is girls, sports, basketball, and this particular season for this team. Perhaps the shadow in Jamila's past is not mentioned out of respect for the Wideman family. Also, no one "Googled" anything in 1993. We hardly used the internet at all, and had not been introduced to the "world wide web." How could Blais have known this would be how we proceed after reading nonfiction in this millenium?

  • Cailla

    The book In These Girls Hope Is A Muscle is an empowering novel about girls basketball making their mark in American sports history. As the book opens, you learn about Amherst, Massachusetts and the history of the Amherst High School Lady Hurricanes. As you read you begin to notice how hard these ladies work day in and day out. Their lives are completely dedicated to the game of basketball, especially seniors Jen and Jamila who are also the team's captains. As the season begins the girls really

    The book In These Girls Hope Is A Muscle is an empowering novel about girls basketball making their mark in American sports history. As the book opens, you learn about Amherst, Massachusetts and the history of the Amherst High School Lady Hurricanes. As you read you begin to notice how hard these ladies work day in and day out. Their lives are completely dedicated to the game of basketball, especially seniors Jen and Jamila who are also the team's captains. As the season begins the girls really start to buckle down. From the daily practices and tough mid-week games, to the college decisions and even weekend shoot arounds, the girls relationships with each other, and also as a team start to become evident. As they grow tighter and continuously work hard together, they reach the championship game where they overcome the impossible. After reading the book In These Girls Hope Is A Muscle I have given it a 2.5 stars out of 5 stars. I also noticed that throughout the novel it got difficult to understand if they were talking about the girls’ lives personally or the team as a whole and how they began to accomplish success. These tangents that the book would go on felt as if the author began to repeat past information from earlier chapters. As you read this book you may find yourself re-reading paragraphs to figure out who is talking. Meanwhile, I do believe the author's overall message is a good life lesson. The team continued to persevere through tough losses but then came a game that helped them get to the championship. All in all, I give this book a 2.5 stars out of 5 stars. The book was very confusing at times, but did have an extremely powerful that every athlete needs to learn, commitment. As a female high school basketball player, commitment means being in the gym 30 minutes before to practice your free throws or your position’s shots. Commitment means not giving up after a tough season, but instead working harder than last year to improve for this next year. Finally, commitment means sticking around even in the deepest darkest times for that one highly earned season of success. I would recommend this book if you are looking for a motivating sports novel but be prepared for some strungout chapters and confusing character dialogue.

  • Rolland

    This book was recommended to me, as a father of girls, a coach of girls basketball, and a resident of Western Massachusetts near where the story is based. And sadly, something rubbed me the wrong way about it.

    The story follows a collection of high school girls who play varsity basketball for the Amherst Hurricanes, led by two all-American players Jen Pariseau and Jamila Wideman and their coach Ron Moyer, in their pursuit of a championship. Ms. Blais, the author, had apparently expanded the book

    This book was recommended to me, as a father of girls, a coach of girls basketball, and a resident of Western Massachusetts near where the story is based. And sadly, something rubbed me the wrong way about it.

    The story follows a collection of high school girls who play varsity basketball for the Amherst Hurricanes, led by two all-American players Jen Pariseau and Jamila Wideman and their coach Ron Moyer, in their pursuit of a championship. Ms. Blais, the author, had apparently expanded the book from an article in the New York Times Magazine and I couldn't help thinking that I probably would have preferred the original article. Despite occasional heartfelt and revealing glimpses into the passions and dreams of girl athletes, there were long stretches of the book lacking substance, long detours that detracted from the narrative force of the book, and overblown stereotypes of Amherst that self-consciously tried to explain the town to the rest of the world in a way that felt simplistic, derisive, and distanced me as a reader from the characters as real people. I wondered if the parts that I hated the most were maybe trite filler content to expand the article to book-length.

    As an example, this passage about February in western MA: "Colleagues and neighbors who were friendly in the summer, sharing their hippie bedspreads and their tabouli and their tofu scrambler on the lawn at Porter Phelps Huntington House along the banks of the Connecticut River during the Wednesday evening concerts, now ignore each other as they gingerly navigate streets burdened with snow and ice." Aside from being rambling, the description is utterly unrepresentative of the families whose children were the subject of the book. Tofu scrambler? I get it: people are hunkered down in the wintertime. I get it: Amherst has a reputation for being liberal. Now get back to the kids. Or the coach. Or the narrative please.

    The book definitely seemed to have trouble deciding its own subject: Was there a major character or conflict? No not really. Was it mainly profiles of the girls? Not well done (and lacking even a team photo to match faces with names). The story of winning a championship? Even that was botched. The book bounced from the western Massachusetts regional championship game to another game against Haverhill that was apparently the state championship game except... it wasn't clear. Instead of saying what the game significance was, the author instead focused on the origins of the Centrum arena in Worcester. Wait, what? Was the regional championship game really a state semi-final? Or did something get skipped? Continuity was abandoned. Consistency lost.

    The topic was great (and overdue - thank you Ms. Blais for bringing us into the world of adolescent girls sports). The intention was great. The delivery, however, left me disappointed.

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