Book Review: True

True
Greenfield, Karl Taro
2018
Little A, New York

Selected out of the free Amazon Prime Reading options, the book caught my attention based more on genre than content. I’m glad I picked it, as there was a depth to it well beyond my expectations. On the surface it seems a bit like a story about those for whom things fell into their laps, who were provided opportunities others didn’t have and then claimed it was their own efforts that got them there… but digging a little deeper it’s actually more about the fight of someone who didn’t have those advantages yet still fought for their dreams as best they could.

We meet True, more formally known as Trudy, on the adult pickup soccer fields of LA. There, she is simply “the girl.” An aberration in the standard male makeup of the pickup teams she falls in with, but one who has earned the respect of her fellow players. And then we take a big step backward, to her junior year of high school, and pick up her story from there.

Saddled with an excess of challenges – a severely developmentally disabled sister, a mother who died after her sister’s birth, and a dedicated father who works hard at trying to give his oldest daughter the childhood he wanted her to have but given the circumstances has issues of his own – True has found her own personal sanctuary on the soccer field. Unable to control so much around her, she narrows in to the one thing she has a reasonable chance to control: her soccer game, and her goal is to be the best. She is talented, driven, and persistent… and has had the good fortune to have grown up playing with a few other similarly talented girls in an area where girl’s soccer was able to pull good coaches and good opponents.

Together with her friends they became a driving force in the LA area soccer leagues. Although they started off with her father being the main chauffeur of the girls to games and practices, her friends’ parents later chip in to cover True’s travel and registration fees for the various camps and workshops needed to become an elite level player; not so much for her, but for their own daughters on the team as they recognize the chemistry between the teammates. When it comes to individual coaching and development, however, True and her father don’t have the means to cover it – so she makes up with an iron will and self-discipline. While her friends mix soccer and social activities, True lives and breathes for the game… and her sister. While still good teammates, she gradually becomes excluded from the social lives of her friends.

Then it happens. Her coach has sent demo tapes of his best players to the higher organizations, and True finds herself selected as a first alternate to the Olympic Development Program camp, while 2 of her teammates are direct selected for it. Asking her coach why she is an alternate when she played better than the others, he brings up her reputation of being overly aggressive on the pitch, and reminds her that it isn’t enough to be the best player, she also has to be a good teammate, and that means not making silly fouls or getting carded off the pitch.

When one of the direct participants is injured ahead of the camp, True takes her place and rises to the challenge. She impresses the staff enough to get invited to the next level, and the next, yet always carries the stigma of being too rough, perhaps a bit inclined to violence. In the process, one of her former teammates becomes her primary rival of those fighting for spots, and whatever remained of their friendship falls apart. A sports psychologist and the top level coach get involved and help her see she needs to temper things, and she works hard at it.

In the meantime, however, things deteriorate at home. She can’t be there enough to take care of her sister and her father can’t handle it alone, so her sister ends up institutionalized. It doesn’t go well. True tried to do what she can, but issue after issue after issue pop up with incompetent or downright abusive staff. True carries a deep sense of guilt about pursuing her dreams while her sister suffers.

On the soccer side, she excels. Presented with chances to play with the national team, she acquits herself well. Her coaches and teammates like and respect her. She gets playing time, and even a couple of goals. She has her choice of full-ride Division 1 scholarships. And then her sister is rushed to a hospital after having been sexually assaulted and beaten in the institution she was in. She works hard to keep it out of her game, but eventually it happens – in a national team camp scrimmage with her rival, her rival goads her by disparaging her sister. In a moment of blind rage, True loses her composure and exhibits her most violent on-pitch behavior, sending her rival to the hospital. She is kicked off the team, and sees how quickly all of her teammates were to turn against her. Her scholarships disappear.

We met her a few years later working as a waitress in a local restaurant and playing pickup games – the place we first meet her. Her sister is back home, and she starts to date one of the other pickup players. He has a friend who is an agent and thinks one of the overseas professional women’s teams would be interested in her. She thinks about it, but can’t see leaving her sister again.

And then her sister is abducted and raped while walking in their neighborhood, and redeposited on her own front lawn in a quaking mess. Confronted with the inability of law enforcement to effectively prosecute the case, and realizing that she can no longer protect her sister, she accepts the offer of a pro career – and once more immerses herself in the game, eventually competing against and beating her former national team teammates who were so quick to turn on her.

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