Set in Illinois in 1979 when Title IX was historically significant, Palmer’s book starts off with a snarky, candid, and humorous tone. Who knew fulcrum could be sexually suggestive or that prolongedly was even a word, especially as an adverb to describe a fantasy kiss? I found myself laughing out loud about how genuine this all seemed.
Initially, the discussion of masturbation and erogenous zones gave the novel an air of authenticity—given that such a focus is a natural part of the maturation process for teens—but it wasn’t long before I wondered whether the author wasn’t taking those topics just a bit beyond reality with their excessive mention.
To validate that issue, the plot revolves around the sexual fantasies of seventeen-year-old Susan Klintock, who has a crush on Power Park’s resident hunk: Bobby McMann, the new soccer coach. To sex-obsessed Susan, McMann suggests “Han Solo danger and adventure” (11) and Paul Newman attractiveness. In Susan’s opinion, McMann is “the first real-life guy who has no visible flaws to disqualify his positive attributes” and whose “shorts [hug] his butt like it [is] a package wrapped by an overachieving Christmas elf” (11).
Susan joins the soccer team, dedicating herself to soccer for all the wrong reasons at first, but her dedication eventually turns productive.
Susan and her best friend Tina have bonded over parental divorce, their shared disdain for Happy Days, and because they both agree that most of the boys at their high school have a good three years to go before they can even be considered dating material. Tina provides a certain form of stability for Susan, who often lives in a fantasy world.
Another advice giver is Susan’s friend Candace Trillo. She tells Susan to resist the movie star focus for her crushes and to be more realistic, pointing out that a teacher is “off limits.” Such advice does little to deter Susan’s single-mindedness. Without her friends’ support, Susan turns to Cosmo for tips on securing her man.
Gimme Everything You Got isn’t just about teen romance, though. Palmer also addresses issues that female athletes had to endure in the early years of equal access to sports. Susan and her teammates are harassed with slurs like “Hey, it’s the ball-kicking lesbos” (41) or by being called the “dyke squad.” Equipment for female athletes was also hard to find, and schools resisted the early required expenditures for uniforms, practice time, and a playing field.
Because he is coaching a girls’ team, Coach McMann is often not taken seriously, but he treats his team like athletes, not like girls, because he wants them to put in the effort, to claim what’s theirs, and to consider themselves pioneers. Like all good coaches, his lessons bleed into life with maxims like this: “Sometimes, we tell ourselves we have good reasons for doing the wrong thing” (354). Because of her coach’s own mistake-making, Susan comes to understand that life is not about being our best all the time: “Maybe it’s about screwing up and knowing that what matters about our mistakes is fixing them” (354).
The team further learns the benefits of sports—about how intentionality leads to results, about finding one’s personal best and discovering enrichment on multiple levels—from leadership to scholarship motivation to lasting bonds with teammates. These lessons especially come to light when Susan’s teammates transform her from a “don’t-mess-with-me-I’m-a-vandal to everything’s-under-control-I’m-the-maid-of-honor” (302).
Once she realizes she’s good at soccer, Susan takes advantage of Joe Gianella’s offer to share tips and to put in extra time with her to develop her moves and abilities. Joe, who is all legs and arms, is not only a talented soccer player. He’s fun and funny, irreverent and flirty—a punk musician who likes people with good stories. Among other key lessons, Joe tells Susan: “If you’re going to get in trouble, put yourself on the line for something good” (232). Whether he is boyfriend material or not is one of the mystery’s the reader will follow.
As the reader follows that thread, Susan will confront whether living in a fantasy has potential to wreck her reality.
One more key character through whom Palmer teaches life lessons is Susan’s mother. Dierdre is a practical and intellectual woman who wants her daughter to maximize her potential. She reminds her daughter that hurt and disappointment are survivable feelings.
Susan’s stepmother Polly is another advisor, who shares truths about how we can’t let disappointment turn us into someone who stops trying. Polly leads Susan to see that certain pages in her mental wish book may need to be torn out and extras written anew.
From additional Palmer characters, readers also realize that family isn’t just fancy photos on a mantel since much of what happens in a family doesn’t receive commemoration.
- Posted by Donna