You can try, but you’re unlikely to find descriptions of basketball as elegant as those in Dana Czapnik’s debut novel, The Falconer. “The ball is a face. Leathered and weathered and pockmarked and laugh lined.” So begins the story of Lucy Adler, 17 and confident in her ability to beat any man on the court.
The novel is set in the early 1990s during Lucy’s senior year at Pendleton Academy. Ambitious Lucy likens herself to the Falconer in Central Park, “a statue of a young boy in tights, leg muscles blazing, releasing a bird.” That’s how she wants to live: at the top of her powers and showing no fear. Although she wonders why women don’t get statues like that.
Lucy is in unrequited love with Percy, her frequent competitor on the court, a wealthy kid whose family made its fortune in part by investing in the company that made Agent Orange. She can’t help but notice that she doesn’t get as much as respect as boys like Percy do, even though she’s her school’s scoring leader. That’s just one of the many examples of sexism Lucy confronts, but at least she doesn’t lack people to commiserate with. Among them are older cousin Violet, an artist, and the woman Violet lives with, also an artist, whose latest project involves using Pepto-Bismol to paint Barbie logos.
There’s little plot here, and Czapnik’s characters tend to make speeches, but The Falconer offers astute observations on the difficulties women confront when trying to succeed in male-dominated fields. In Lucy, Czapnik has created a great character who refuses to conform to expectations. But even Lucy knows that, for a falcon to soar, those with the power to hold it back need to let go.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.