Saturday, September 03, 2011

'Champion's Choice' Always a Delightful Choice

Tunis, John. Champion's Choice. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1990 (1940).

Although John Tunis is best known for his numerous baseball novels, my two favourite books in his canon depart from this tradition and showcase, instead, athletes in tennis and track. Champion's Choice tells the story of Janet Johnson, a little girl whose surprising talent with a tennis racquet catapults her from a working-class home onto the courts of a local country club whose members and instructors soon give her a chance to go much further afield.

Although Janet becomes a tennis player, and descriptions of her matches feature prominently in Tunis' novel, Champion's Choice is not really a book about tennis. Rather, this exceptional novel is a grown-up version of the coming of age novel: it explores the tensions and confusion that occasionally make it difficult for this budding protagonist to define herself. Is she Janet Johnson the tennis player, or Janet Johnson, woman, daughter, and friend? Janet is gently prodded through this process of self-awareness by her childhood friend Rodney, whose friendly advice on the court and off keep Janet alternately pleased, bewildered, and annoyed. Fans of tennis will enjoy the descriptions of matches, courts, and grueling practice sessions, but fans of character studies will find that Tunis' sports characters are far from stock athletes: Janet the character is fresh, exciting, and as fun to study on my fifth read of the book as she was on the day I first cracked the pages. Sadly out of print, this is a must-read for all.

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