Book Review – Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

As if I wasn’t already feeling fairly old but I’ve just discovered that this book was the winner of the Goodreads Best Historical Fiction. It’s set in the early 90s.In my head, that only happened a few years ago. How can that be considered historical? The 90s is now officially vintage. Something to be viewed with a sense of nostalgia. I hope the 90s don’t replace the 80s as the top literary setting. I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with YA characters getting super excited about old Nickelodeon shows and floppy-haired boybands. Celebrating the discovery of a really cool retro album called Backstreet’s Back. I’m imagining Ready Player One but with much less cool references. I didn’t know that Carrie Soto is Back was set in the 90s. I’m not saying it would have stopped me reading it but it would at least have prepared me. Prepared me for hearing the words “my new favourite show: ER” spoken with utter sincerity. The 90s was a weird time.

After the 2004 film Wimbledon, I thought we’d agreed that tennis wasn’t the best choice for sports narratives. It certainly shouldn’t be used as the backdrop for any kind of romance. Unfortunately, Taylor Jenkins Reid disagreed so we ended up with this. Former tennis star, Carrie Soto, making her comeback at the age of 37. It was clear that there would be a lot of tennis in this book and I wasn’t convinced it would be for me. If I hadn’t enjoyed Daisy Jones & the Six so much, I definitely wouldn’t have picked this book up.

I understand this is a book about women literally competing with but does it have to put them in such a bad light? Carrie Soto is one of the most irritating and unpleasant women ever. She’s so self-obsessed and not just because she wants to win. This isn’t just a case of someone who has to believe she’s the best to be the best. We have to listen to her think the most awful things about her competitors. Like when she gets really happy knowing that her pretty young competition would one day be old and ugly. That’s not friendly competition. It’s the worst. There will be plenty who view Carrie Soto as a positive figure. That she’s just driven and determined. That it’s refreshing to have a female protagonist who isn’t sweet and kind all the time. I get that Carrie is probably meant to be a Serena Williams type but she lacks charm. Carrie is awful to everyone she meets and it feels anti-feminist. And her personal history? God, I’m bored of the dead mum backstory for strong women.

I think this book would have benefited from being told from multiple perspectives. Hearing from other people may have helped give Carrie some humanity. It might have helped soften her if we saw her through other people’s eyes. Instead, we’re basically stuck in her head the whole time and it wasn’t a place I enjoyed being in. I also think that the romantic element of the story is way too rushed. So much time is spent on the context that the main part of the book doesn’t get much time. Neither Carrie nor Bowe Huntley has much depth to them. They also don’t have much chemistry. They just happen to spend a lot of time together. So it’s not the greatest basis for a romance.

I think the audiobook version of this is wonderful. The segments where we hear sportscasters discussing the action really worked. The production brought new energy to the narrative and the music was a great addition. It made me wish that I’d listened to the audiobook of Daisy Jones. I bet that would have been incredible. Although the endless description of tennis matches doesn’t work. The pacing was so off in this book and there was a lack of excitement. Tennis isn’t really the kind of game that works on the page and there is a lot of tennis to get through in this book. We spend so much time in matches. I know it’s important but surely there was another way to handle this? Daisy Jones has such an exciting format so we know Taylor Jenkins Reid had the skills to do something fun here.

Although, I have to say that I think the decision she made with the ending was well-judged. It could have gone a few ways and this was the only ending that would work for the character. It was the closest she really came to any kind of development. As a lover of character studies, I found Carrie Soto is Back underwhelming. I’m a lover of bad sports movies but this just didn’t work for me.

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