Sidelined is a warm-hearted big city romance with a small town feeling that is, for the majority of its running time, a readable football romance that has an easygoing core and a witty sense of self. But the introduction of a poorly-written disabled character and the disappointing ending mean I can’t give it more than an average grade. Sigh!
Charlie Gibb just wants a nice, warm cup of coffee. Having just moved from Georgia to Minnesota, she doesn’t have a place to live yet but she does have a job as the first female coach of the Minneapolis Otters football program. This could result in her making major history, history that’ll get her out of the looming shadow of her college-coach dad and away from the beauty pageants she participated in to please her grandmother. The asshole in the Caribou Coffee parking lot that she almost runs down just enhances the stress factor of an already stressful day. Then said asshole turns out to be a member of her support staff, leaving her in a pretty awkward position. After all, she did just flip the guy the double bird.
Connor McGuire is less than pleased by the fact that this upstart coach is going to be leading the Otters into battle; this was his goal, his endgame, his dream job, after all. He thinks the position is just a gift from the school to Charlie because of her famous dad, but he comes to respect her fairly quickly as a coach and strategist. Because of his failed dreams he’s airtight emotionally; only his four siblings know the real him, and he thinks he knows the real Charlie, too. Especially in comparison to the press corps, who insult or sexualize her nontraditional build (as do her new students. And her support staff, who is shocked she was once “beauty-pageant hot”).
As the season goes on, Charlie makes friends with her new roommates – Sonja and Piper (heroine of Trouble Brewing, who’s moving out and getting married soon) – and she and Connor go from grudging respect and hard edges to a physical affair. But when Charlie’s job is threatened, what will they do?
The answer to that question is what wrecked Sidelined, which is a shame because I loved everything else about the book and reached the midpoint thinking I’d be giving it an A. Then the second half happens, which feels like an appeasement towards traditional values after giving us an entire book that bucks them.
I loved tough Charlie, her determination, her competence and her intelligent pursuit of the sport she loved. I liked Connor and his gruffness and his willingness to punch sexists in the face for Charlie (and his ability to learn from his mistakes) and the way he cares about his family.
The love affair between Charlie and Connor works because they give each other shit but also stand up for one another courageously. For all their tough talk there’s love percolating under that skin, and that makes all their snipping and sniping tolerable.
I was less impressed by the way it uses Connor’s disabled younger brother Sean as cuteness porn and inspiration porn. Sidelined doesn’t even give Sean’s condition a name nor does it discuss what he does with his time besides being Connor’s biggest cheerleader and participating in an adult soccer team for the disabled; instead he floats through the storyline without a filter, calling Charlie pretty, having many girlfriends and being obsessed with selfies. The fact that Connor is so devoted to Sean is the only real proof in the early stages of the story that Connor is anything more than a hardass. To say that Sean’s portrayal is ill-defined and that he’s used simply for ‘aww’ points is obvious. Sean feels like an ancient caricature from a seventies sitcom instead of a fully-fledged person living with a disability.
But the worst part of the book is definitely its ending, which tries to give sop to both Connor and Charlie’s ambitions, while ignoring both the injustice of what happens to Charlie, and which, after she worked so hard and battled against so much crap, is a total cop-out and let-down. And while Connor ends up fulfilling his dream, we have only the author’s say-so that he deserves it, as we never actually see any real evidence of his supposed footballing talent.
Sidelined could have been an A grade read, but its thoughtless treatment of a disabled character and the unfortunate ending was enough to knock it down a few pegs.
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