Sweet turnaround for Peggy Beck

By |2018-01-16T05:56:57-05:00January 21st, 2010|Entertainment|

By Dan Woog

The OutField

Stereotypes have long held that there are no gay male athletes – but most female athletes are lesbians. However, ever since “The Front Runner,” authors have tackled the theme of gay male athletes far more often than females.
“Sweet Turnaround J” changes all that.
The second novel by Peggy Beck, it explores the life of 16-year-old Janey Holmes after her old school closes, and she joins a team that has not won a game in three years. Along the way she confronts her own temper, and falls in love with another girl.
Like Janey, Beck was a sports fanatic. Her father encouraged her love of athletics; her mother, concerned about raising a tomboy, was less enthusiastic. Growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s and ’60s, Beck played every game imaginable -including football. But as she grew older, social strictures made coed play impossible.
With no real sports available, she went through “bad emotional stuff,” Beck says. Recognizing her attraction to women made life even tougher. She gravitated to politics and folk singing. At Sarah Lawrence College, she wrote but did not show her work to anyone. “My whole life was secret,” she says.
After earning a Ph.D. in the history of consciousness, she wrote fiction, poetry, articles and essays covering mythology, folklore and history. In middle age she recalled that she once wanted to be the best female basketball player in the world and decided to revisit that dream.
“I wanted to write about a girl obsessed with basketball,” Beck says. “But I realized I didn’t know anything about it anymore.” She spent a year watching every practice of a team in New Mexico, where she lived. She went to the Amateur Athletic Union 15-year-old Nationals where she interviewed coaches. She attended other tournaments, and then became an assistant high school coach and a seventh grade girls’ coach.
She studied videos, read coaching books and interviewed plenty of players. “I wanted to get it right,” Beck says.
She got it so right the first draft of her novel was 1,000 pages.
The lesbian element is important. Janey falls in love with her new best friend. The chapter where they kiss and make love is implied. Over the next two chapters, the reader agonizes as the girls can’t deal with what is going on. Janey goes through hell when Alejo won’t talk to her.
During her long research, Beck had watched girls trying to figure out their feelings for other girls. She’d also heard the anti-gay remarks so typical on teams and in high schools. Because Beck had felt and heard the same things, her writing is strong and real.
But it did not become truly powerful until Beck changed the narrative from third person to first.
“Sweet Turnaround J” is not, however, only about lesbians.
“It always comes back to basketball,” Beck says.
“The gym is like the theater – every day is a rehearsal for a play.” The novel includes alcohol abuse, parental issues, coaching issues – all the things teenagers of every sexual orientation deal with regularly.
But sexuality is often part of high school sports, and Beck does not shy from it. When Janey finally talks with a teammate, the other girl asks, “How did you know you were gay?”
“I always was,” Janey says.
The coach encourages Janey and Alejo to follow their feelings. That doesn’t always happen, Beck knows, but through her research into coaches and coaching styles, she realizes that the best coaches are supportive of all their athletes, whatever their personal feelings may be.
Like many young adult novels, “Sweet Turnaround J” is making its way slowly into libraries and onto suggested reading lists. Bloggers who discuss homophobia in women’s basketball have been positive and helpful.
One reviewer said that the author’s “depiction of relationships is often missing in the male sports books, which focus more on narrative action. Beck’s portrayal of a multicultural team with all the signifiers suggests an observant eye and much research … . (We) discover the important lessons and human strength that basketball or any sport can teach in the drive toward winning games and learning life’s lessons.”
“I live in a complete fantasy world, where everyone will want to read it,” Beck admits. While she has heard nothing negative so far, she understands that a gay protagonist may cause some young readers to steer clear.
Beck hopes that does not happen. “I’ll feel really badly if it gets pigeonholed. I think girls who aren’t lesbian can find a lot in the book to enjoy and learn from,” she says.
“There are no sports books for girls, gay or straight,” Beck says. “They’re the lowest of the low on the totem pole. Hundreds of thousands of girls play sports. They need to read about their world.”
Visit www.sweetturnaroundj.com for more information, including ordering information and links to basketball websites.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.