CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013
Parmita is an all-star soccer goalie at Podium Sports Academy. Her coaches think she has the potential to make the National Team, and Parmita is committed to working as hard as she can to get there. Her team's assistant coach, Caroline, once played for the Canadian National Team herself, so Parmita is eager to heed her advice on the field. However, Caroline is far too intimate with Parmita, and she often crosses emotional and physical boundaries. Parmita is increasingly uncomfortable with Caroline's advances, but she is conflicted about speaking up about her feelings. For one, Caroline knows that Parmita is a lesbian, and she is terrified of the whole team finding out before she is ready to come out to her family and friends. Most worryingly, however, Parmita is scared that, if she reports her sexual assault, she will lose her chance of earning a spot on the National Team.
As with her previous work in the Podium Sports Academy series, Rookie, Vegas Tryout, and One Cycle, author Lorna Schultz Nicholson is to be commended for her no-fear approach to writing about serious issues that have resonance with real life. Nicholson's extensive knowledge of the sports world makes for a glimpse into the real behind-the-scenes of practices, locker rooms, and tournament life. Nicholson gives her protagonists and secondary characters great depth, which ensures that the friendships and team dynamics between the characters are relatable and, above all else, believable.
The decision to have a protagonist who is a closeted lesbian is a bold move on Nicholson's part. But it is necessary. There are few female characters in young adult fiction who openly struggle with their sexuality, and fewer still who are given a realistic coming-out. Parmita experiences a range of reactions to the revelation of her sexuality – from a sympathetic mother and friends to a ruffled Christian host family. Nicholson shows a real dedication to her readers by giving her characters authentic and honest life challenges.
However, while Nicholson is at the fore of realism in her YA fiction, she misses an opportunity to address the very real reactions to and consequences of sexual assault. In a surprisingly explicit shower scene, Parmita is raped by her coach. Parmita experiences an onslaught of confusing and contradictory emotions. While Nicholson certainly explores Parmita's feelings, she leaves the reader on a very problematic notion: that there was something Parmita could have done to prevent her rape. The final pages of the novel find Parmita perplexed: "I'd never been a victim. I'd always been strong. A leader. A focused athlete. A student who got straight A's. How had I let this happen?" It is important that Nicholson shows this sort of thought process as many victims believe their assault to have been preventable. However, Nicholson does not return to this question, via the advice of an adult or counselor, to assure Parmita that the rape was not her fault and it was not her responsibility to prevent it. A novel targeted towards young women that deals with the poignant and difficult issues of sexuality and assault should certainly show the reader that sexual violence is the fault of the attacker, not the victim, and it is quite unfortunate that Nicholson fails to support her readers in this way.
Forward Pass is an essential addition to the young adult sports canon. While it lacks an adequate and healthy conclusion for Parmita's comprehension of her assault, Forward Pass paves the way for future stories of self-discovery and understanding.
Jillian Sexton has a BA (Hons.) in English Literature from Memorial University and is currently completing her MA in Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. You can read more from her on her blog: www.thebookbully.ca.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.