This book is a YA situation that appealed to me on a very deep level. I grew up playing soccer because my father played. And my brothers too, though they were younger than me, they started before me and I decided to try because, I don’t know, sibling FOMO maybe? Anyways, it turned out to be a great choice because, though my skill was clearly never what Furia’s was (and though my general experience with team spirit/support definitely didn’t touch Camila’s either), I DID make two of my longest friends from it. In fact, they are half of my long-distance book club today! So, I’d say it was more than worth it. Plus, of course, there is true joy in playing hard and leaving everything you’ve got out on the field. And just in general, soccer is an important sport for my family. Every four years, for the World Cup, and we would watch every game – even the ones between low ranked teams or that ended in a draw after 90 minutes of scoreless-ness. It was just…a big thing. And even with those fantastic memories of watching, and my own personal fun playing (fully supported by my family), there is a lot that about Camila’s story that hit home while reading…we never got as into woman’s games/tournaments and things like “women’s play just isn’t as exciting” was commonly heard. I never really questioned it. And it was nothing like the barriers or backlash Camila faced. And yet…there are recognizable threads of commonality. So basically, that’s a super long intro for me to say: I’m into soccer (and Spanish – that’s what I studied in undergrad), so you know I’m gonna read an Argentinian-set, feminist, soccer-themed, YA novel!
“Always be proud to play like a girl.”
Camila has a big secret. At home, she lives in the shadow of her mother’s expectations, her brother’s fútbol career and, mostly, the looming fear and tension of her father’s anger. But they don’t know that outside of the home, she too is playing fútbol, the star of a local women’s team, even though women aren’t supposed to play, and she definitely wouldn’t be allowed if they knew. On a larger scale she’s living surrounded in a country soaked in dangerous machismo, facing the ever-present danger of becoming the next “disappeared” girl. And of course, there’s the added complication that Diego, her first love, her childhood best friend, is now a major international fútbol star and is back in town.
I loved Camila. From the very first page her ambition is palpable and drives her daily life and decisions and I loved that about her and for her. But even with all her inner strength, she is facing some truly difficult environmental threats to her success, like her father’s temper and societal expectations and judgements. (So, so many judgements; even from many of the supportive people in her life.) So yea, she is dealing with many of the normal teenage stressors, plus the additional issues of inter-family violence and poverty and oppressive anti-feminist culture. And fútbol is her dream and her escape, both in the present and for the future. I loved the way that passion for the game was woven into everything, as a fan and as a talented player. It is central to the story because it is central to the country, the culture, her family, and Camila herself. It was done in a way that might sometimes seem over the top for anyone who is not a fan, but felt so real within the context.
I know I already said this, but I loved how focused Camila was – it’s the kind of drive that takes a person from one level to the next, the way that leads to true success. Within that, I loved her team and coach. They were so encouraging of her dream to play on a bigger stage, with all the support and toughness that comes with that kind of co-dreaming. I did feel like, at times, some of her closest people, Coach Alicia and Roxana, got a bit pushy/judge-y about Diego in a way that felt extreme/negative to me personally, but looking at the bigger picture and the sociocultural reality, it also makes sense. Relatedly, I did appreciate that the author presented first love in a nuanced way (though with some very cheesy dialogue) – something that Camila very much longed for and wanted (reasonable), but that she knew when to put her foot down against in order to protect her own dreams and not lose herself to it (impressive). What genuineness and strength! Basically, I love loved Camila’s fire, her fury, on and off the field.
I want to highlight here how amazing the female relationships in this book were. Honestly. They were often not perfect and I love them more for it. This novel is very much based in a reality where the daily limitations and trauma women face are overwhelming (to say the least) and Méndez honored and recognized this reality while cushioning it for the reader by also highlighting the female solidarity that was created within it. As I said, the team support and spirit were gorgeous pieces. As was, though difficult, the inclusion of the feminist movement calling for an end to the insidious and pervasive violence against women throughout Argentina. In addition, the mother-daughter relationship between Camila and her mother was so wonderfully complex, developing dual desire to protect, but frustration at being unable to, and the “wanting the best for” the other in a way that is both safe and fulfilling (but again, not always within their power to grant). It was heartbreaking and heartwarming in turns and just so authentic.
I truly loved how the story wrapped up and played out in regards to relationships versus personal dreams, and wanting both and making tough decisions, but not letting that stop one from still indulging in feelings and hope for both. I love the message that it’s ok to be competitive and successful and still want love and the ending leaves us (those who “want it all”) with such hope, but, again, within a realistic boundary. Also, the title is just perfect: Furia is both a great nickname for Camila and encapsulates many of the feelings I had while reading because of the impotence of myself (as the reader) and the characters (as women) to stay safe or affect change or achieve dreams as “normally” as should be the case. Finally, the audiobook narrator was spectacular – the perfect voice for Camila and phenomenal in bringing the story and characters and setting and emotions to life.
This novel was just a beautiful ode to achieving dreams while still recognizing the limitations and losses that exist within and around that success in a way that is important for teens to see/read and will absolutely still resonate with adult readers. It got me emotional, that’s for sure. You can tell the love and pride Méndez has for her country, her barrio, and fútbol, even with full recognition of its flaws and the need for change, and you can feel her heartbeat all throughout this story.
Here are a few passages that jumped out at me in particular as I listened:
“When boys and men became angry, they tried to fix the world by breaking it down with their fists.”
“Her ears were trained to detect any kind of lie, but her heart was trained to ignore the things she couldn’t deal with.”
“…prejudice didn’t read or obey laws. It was a hard weed to pull from people’s hearts.”
“One day, when a girl was born in Rosario, the earth would shake with anticipation for her future and not dread.”
“The sense of wonder and possibility – that I owed to the Argentine women who had fought for freedom before the universe conspired and the stars aligned to make me.”