Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If you let me play

I've never read an American Girl novel; at the reference desk we get requests for them by name and it just seemed unlikely that I would recommend them to someone looking for a good book. Well, I've read one now, and it's still pretty unlikely. Meet Julie introduces us to Julie Albright, 4th grader. It's 1974, and her parents -- hippie-ish mom (who owns an artsy Haight-Ashbury store called Gladrags) and airline pilot dad -- are divorcing. Julie must move across San Francisco and go to a new school. She's missing her BFF (not a 70s term) Ivy Ling.

Author Megan McDonald includes a reasonable amount of historical and cultural references -- Vietnam War vets trying to keep a social service center open, Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympics, mood rings, those shag carpets in the shape of a foot (look, you can even buy one for your own room), and even a friendly, no-fault divorce (the reasons for the divorce are never alluded to). The main plot line revolves around Julie's introduction to Title IX -- the 1972 law that said that money spent on boys' sports had to be the same as money spent on girls' (among other things). Julie wants to play basketball, and since Jack London Elementary School doesn't have a girls' team, she thinks it's only fair that she be allowed to play on the boys'. Inspired by a neighborly Vietnam vet, she conducts a petition drive and presents it to her principal.

I received a full 8+ hours of audiobook devoted to Julie (six stories), but only listened to the first of her adventures. Ali Ahn is the narrator and she does a fine job with the limited material. She reads with a youthful perkiness as well as 4th grade despair. She differentiates between a limited cast of characters with her voice and performs them consistently. I was mildly amused by the whole book, but I think that's because I was growing up in the '70s along with Julie. Still, like many books for readers who are stepping into "real" chapter books, they don't make the best audiobooks. The sentences are short and declarative, any reading of them is bound to be choppy. Ahn does the best she can.

My post title is a shout out to that great Nike ad from about ten years ago. Play ball, Julie!

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