Review: Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Review: Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

Stealing Parker by Miranda Kenneally

I am not one to seek out books I know I won’t like—that’s not how I roll. Despite that my negative reviews generate more pageviews and more comments, I have zero interest in reading things that don’t appeal to me. There are far too many books in the world to waste my precious reading time that way.

As a result of that, I know some of you will be surprised that I read Stealing Parker after Miranda Kenneally’s debut, Catching Jordan was a quick “did-not-finish” book, due to its ridiculous implausibility and extremely troubling themes.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist trying Stealing Parker, as I am desperate for a quality sports-themed read and I’ve grown to adore baseball. (Guess who saw a perfect game—in person—this summer? That’s right, this girl!) Unfortunately, while I did finish Stealing Parker, it was a struggle. I am certain many readers will enjoy in this book, but for me it was too shallow and too inauthentic to recommend.

Seventeen year-old Parker is a former high school softball star who quits the team, loses 20 pounds and starts kissing inappropriate boys after her mother announces she’s a lesbian and moves away to live with her girlfriend. Her mother’s news scandalizes Parker’s conservative small town and particularly Parker’s family’s church community.

In this slim novel, Kenneally attempts to tackle all of the issues Parker faces, including crises related to faith, family and friendships—not to mention Parker’s extremely ill-conceived flirtation and eventual relationship with the baseball team’s new assistant coach.

The storyline about Parker’s strained relationship with her mother and the resulting fallout in the family’s community is the most compelling and authentic.

This news rips apart Parker’s family, and in her conservative small town people are quite unkind and my heart sort of broke for Parker as she feels so very lost as her old friends push her away and her family crumbles.

The day Laura told everyone I was probably just like my mom— a butch softball player who probably likes girls— Drew crawled into my bed and held me until I cried out every tear in my body. He held me all night long. Even with everything that’s happened to me, I have to thank you for letting me keep Drew. Written on February 17; kissed and tucked away in my Bible.

Unfortunately, this is only a small piece of the main storyline—it pops up here and there when Parker reflects on her attempts to be a better girly-girl (she spends a lot of time tangling her hair in a specific way that is apparently very appealing to teenage boys), and the end of the book deals with her reconciliation with her mother—but that’s not the meat of Stealing Parker. 

Instead, the bulk of the book focuses on Parker’s crush on the 23 year-old baseball coach, and their subsequent (extremely inappropriate) relationship. Brian, the coach, is a tough character to peg. Much of the time, he seems like a sad, lost 20-something wallowing in an extended adolescence. Parker’s attention is probably flattering to him. But, really this should have been a warning sign, 

He has two bumper stickers: one is for the Braves, the other reads CO-EXIST and is covered by all these symbols that I recognize from Brother John’s PowerPoint presentation on devil worshipping signs.

That’s right, a Braves fan and a “co-exist” bumper sticker—a smart girl like Parker should’ve known better. 

I had a number of issues with the believability of Brian’s character. While he’s essentially interning so that he can become a P.E. teacher and coach, he seems wholly unaware of the behavioral expectations of someone in his position, and oblivious as to the potential ramifications of his choices. 

I blow warm air onto my hands and rub them together. “Is this okay? I mean, are we allowed to talk off school property?”

He thinks for a few secs. “I haven’t read the school handbook. I have no idea. But we’re not going clubbing or anything. We’re just getting food, right?”

“Right.” Totally cool. I’m totally cool. Breathe. “Why do you want to get dinner with me?”

He lifts a shoulder, chewing his gum. “We both gotta eat.”

“Don’t you have plans? A family? A girlfriend? A wife?”

He laughs and jingles his keys. “Let’s go.”

Wha-huh? He hasn’t read the handbook? I come from a family of educators and worked for a school district—trust me, he would have read the handbook and known that socializing with a student in this manner (he later orders a PBR at the restaurant) is alone grounds for dismissal in many school systems. 

I wear the shortest shorts I own and try to look as sexy as possible, even when doing sit-ups. He barely looks my way! But then at night, we message on Facebook. That’s the wonderful part.

Their relationship rapidly progresses, as Parker sneaks out for clandestine make-out sessions that appear that they’ll soon escalate to something more serious. At this point, I began believing in Parker’s story again, because Kenneally handles Parker’s confusion over whether or not she’s ready for the direction she feels this relationship is headed. 

At the same time, Parker frets over her brother’s apparent spiral into drug and alcohol abuse and begins a friendship with the book’s most charming character, Will AKA “Corndog,” a player on the baseball team. All of these complications seem poised to collide and create quite a disastrous situation for Parker. But, despite all that, the stakes never feel that high and I never found myself wondering if Parker would be okay.

Parker effectively faces zero consequences for her choices.

While I sympathized with Parker because Kenneally does a good job of conveying how lost Parker feels following her mother leaving, I could not stomach the fact that everything comes up roses for her in the end. There’s not a lot I can say regarding the specifics without massive spoilage, but let’s just say that in the real world things are not sewn up so neatly, people are not so forgiving and when you give up something/one you love, it’s not easy to get it/him/her back.

Just goes to show that a trip to a new church won’t automatically make me a good person. I don’t deserve any of this.

The thing is, I felt like Parker did deserve what she got—and she deserved far more. Growing up means owning up to your actions and taking responsibility for yourself, and yet seventeen year old Parker doesn’t have to suffer much more than a bit of embarrassment. 

I love contemporary young adult fiction when it’s done well, but one of the keys to my enjoyment is realism in terms of the effects of characters’ actions. This is one of the reasons I love Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series so much—for all of the characters, when they mess up, they’ve got to face the music in some way. It’s painful, it’s ugly, but it’s also real. Stealing Parker never reads as real.

Furthermore, in both of the books in this series, sports are simply window dressing for generic teen stories. 

People play or participate in or even act as sports spectators for lots of reasons—but in the end, they have reasons. Kids play sports to fit in, escape their home lives, to excel or out of pure passion. I grew up in a small town much like the town both of Kenneally’s books take place in and nearly everyone that Friday Night Lights-style small town showed up for football games because that was a way to part of something. In both Stealing Parker and Catching Jordan, there’s no “why,” there’s no passion and there’s no emotion in the sports narrative. 

For a lot of readers, that omission won’t be a problem, but for me, as someone who loves sports, loves the highs and lows, sports as a simple backdrop isn’t enough. People who are heavily-invested in sports like the characters in these two books supposedly are, feel something about sports, but these characters simply don’t. 

Near the end of Stealing Parker, there’s an extended scene involving an softball game between the baseball and softball teams. Little details, such as when Take Me Out to the Ball Game is traditionally sung and how a rundown out (or a “pickle”—which is one of my favorite baseball colloquialisms) is executed, are a bit off in that scene, which further made the baseball elements read like unnecessary, inauthentic window dressings.

Finally, my biggest problem with Stealing Parker is that it simply scratches the surface of a lot of issues without delving into them in a meaningful way.

That doesn’t mean that I’d prefer it be an “issue book,” but rather that if a book is going to tackle religion, family schisms, homophobia, inappropriate student-teacher relationships, drug abuse, eating disorders and first love, that’s a hefty order, and I expect that not all of those things be neatly tied up with a bow and delivered to the main character in a tidy little package of resolution. Those are big issues and coming to terms with those things should be messy. 

I know this book (and its companion, Catching Jordan) has legions of devoted fans, and I can see why—Kenneally’s writing is fluid and her books move at a comfortable pace. In fact, when I initially finished reading Stealing Parker, I gave it a tentative three stars on Goodreads, because there’s nothing technical wrong with the book, and I realize that I’m in the minority in my dislike for this novel.

But I want more. At its best, contemporary young adult fiction at its best explores the messy awkwardness of growing up, even in books that appear fluffly on the surface (I’m thinking of books like Anna and the French Kiss, Such a Rush, Bittersweet), there’s realism and depth. Unfortunately, Stealing Parker misses that mark completely.

FNL Character Rating: Jess Merriweather would roll her eyes at Parker’s shallow self-absorption, poor decision-making and lackadaisical approach to sports team management.

{Buy Stealing Parker at Amazon | BN | Book Depository}

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Disclosure: Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

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The "New Adult" Category: Thoughts + Questions

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Photo Essay: A.S. King at Vancouver Community Library

Photo Essay: A.S. King at Vancouver Community Library