Review of Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Many books have made me feel many things, but seldom has one given me constant jolts of adrenalin much like watching a tennis match on TV where the play is powerful and exquisite and you as a viewer are transfixed. Carrie Soto Is Back is that kind of novel.

Blurb: Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

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When you believe that your only purpose in life has been to be the best, the greatest tennis player of all time and the stat you depend on is the record of won grand slam matches, what do you do when someone is about to tie and then surpass your record? In Carrie Soto’s case, you decide to make a comeback at the old age (in tennis years) of 37, train perhaps the hardest you ever have in your life, and then begin to deal with hard truths about your body, your mind, and the life you thought was important in Taylor Reid Jenkins’ amazing novel Carrie Soto Is Back.

Yes, I’m telling you immediately that Carrie Soto Is Back is an amazing novel that I never wanted to end and yet kept constantly page-turning to get to the end. And those last few chapters had me so riveted that I indeed felt like my adrenalin was pumping. Fight! Win! Succeed!

Carrie Soto Is Back is a multi-faceted relationship novel: father and daughter, woman and tennis, woman and herself, and only later woman and man as Carrie finally allows herself to be something more than a tennis automaton. Carrie is abrasive, sometimes heartless, cold, controlled, and focused but as the novel progresses, Carrie grows as a human being and it’s a seriously wonderful change with many instances in which I was teary-eyed as Carrie’s vulnerability opens her wide.

The relationship between Carrie and her father, Javier, known as the jaguar during his tennis playing days in Argentina, is beautiful and bittersweet. He has molded her into believing that she will be the greatest but must walk the fine line of bolstering without lying, which ultimately proves impossible and becomes the first break in their relationship early on. But as Carrie starts over at 37, Javier is by her side, coaching and forcing her to acknowledge that she is not always right, she does not know everything.

Taylor Reid Jenkins’ description of the matches made me feel like I was right there, watching a match. I appreciated this, especially as a tennis aficionado. Carrie Soto Is Back is not only a beautiful character novel, but a beautiful tennis novel.

Carrie Soto Is Back does not flinch when it comes to the media and their perception of female athletes. Smile, Carrie. Be sweeter, Carrie. Men can throw temper tantrums, but women have to be above that. A woman cannot say she’ll annihilate an opponent. Not without being called nicely: battle axe or later when a sportscaster thinks his mike is off “bitch.” Not only is Carrie Soto back, but her agent sends her an Elton John album with the appropriate song: “The Bitch Is Back.” Times haven’t changed and these perceptions are as true today as they would have been in the 90s and earlier. Unfortunately.

And, if I could have added one more scene to this brilliant novel, it would have been one in which 37 year old Carrie Soto plays in a match the smarmy male tennis player, Petrovich, who points out that she only has to win the best of 3 sets while he has to win the best of 5 and have him eat his words and the court. Oh, well, that would be my fantasy scene, but probably a Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs moment would have been too off-target for this novel.

While I am a huge tennis fan and would highly recommend Carrie Soto Is Back for any tennis fan/readers, this book goes beyond being merely a tennis novel. It’s about relationships and life choices, opening yourself up and pursuing your dreams, desires, goals, discovering joy again, and living.

“You want to know the secret? It’s the same thing we are all doing about life every single day.”
I look to her.
“Forget there’s an ending.”

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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