Danika reviews Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler

the cover of Home Field Advantage

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If you were a queer woman on the internet ten years ago (was it really ten years ago??), you saw the photo of a girl high school quarterback getting her hair fixed by a cheerleader.

It’s iconic, and it seems made to inspire a movie or book or TV show. (I’m guessing this story helped inspire the later Nickelodeon TV show Bella and the Bulldogs.) Luckily, we finally have a book that matches these vibes: Home Field Advantage.

Jack has always loved football. Although she plays other sports, she’s been devoted to football since she was a little kid, and she’s good at it. The problem is that being good at it isn’t enough to be allowed to play at her school. Then she gets an opportunity to change that. Atherton high school is looking for a new quarterback, and they’ve asked her to fill the spot—not that they can technically recruit her as a player. It’s just that if her family happened to move there, they happen to have a spot for her.

Jack is under no illusions that it won’t be an uphill battle to convince this conservative town that she is a capable quarterback, but it turns out to be much harder than she imagined. For one thing, the coach didn’t mention to the team that the new quarterback was a girl. For another, she’s replacing the former quarterback because he died, and the team—and whole school, really—is still mourning and idolizing him.

It took a lot to come out here, though: her family is split between two towns, and renting out even their tiny apartment is a strain on the family’s finances. She’s sleeping on the couch. She upended their lives for this opportunity, and she’s not going to give up that easily.

And then there’s our other main character, Amber. Amber is as competitive and passionate about cheerleading as Jack is about football. She has a plan to become cheer captain, and everything is falling into place. Sure, she has to be closeted at school, even to her best friend. But it’s worth it to fit in on the team and be able to do what she loves.

Jack is throwing a wrench in those plans, though. Both the football team and the cheerleading team hate her and want her out. Even aside from the fact that she finds Jack attractive, Amber doesn’t understand the vitriol, especially from her best friend. It’s obvious that Jack is a great player—much better than the teammate who first tried to fill in and failed miserably. If she’s going to have a chance of becoming cheer captain, though, she can’t go against everyone else. So instead, she tries to subtly steer them towards accepting Jack without them calling her out.

At first, Jack and Amber butt heads. Jack doesn’t believe her niceties in the beginning, and then resents that she stays quiet while the rest of the school aims sexism and homophobia at her. I appreciated, though, that this doesn’t drag out very long. They both are obviously attracted to each other, and it isn’t long before they give in and start up a secret romance.

This is complicated for a whole lot of reasons, though. Aside from the team’s general hatred of Jack and the homophobic environment, Amber already has a boyfriend—at least, that’s what everyone else thinks. Amber and Miguel have been in a fake relationship for a while to cover up the fact that they’re both queer. In fact, Miguel is dating a guy from another school. And breaking up might threaten his cover, too.

This was such a readable, engrossing book. The pacing is great, and I kept thinking, “Just one more chapter.” I actually stayed up late to finish this, which I almost never do. But every chapter ending made me more curious about what happened next, and there was plenty of drama to keep me invested.

One of the minor aspects of the book I really liked was that Amber’s mom is bisexual. It made me realize that although I’ve read books with same-sex parents, I don’t think I’ve read another book that had a single bisexual parent. It was nice that Amber could be out and comfortable at home, even if she didn’t feel safe talking about that at school. And her mom’s casual bisexual jokes made me happy. It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m closer to the mom’s age than Amber’s age now.

I also liked Amber’s exploration of the labels she feels comfortable with. She’s not attracted to cis men, but she is attracted to other genders, so she’s not sure how to label herself. She seems to be settling on polysexual and queer, but she’s not completely sure even by the end of the book. (Jack uses the terms gay and lesbian to refer to herself.)

Also, this book did make me invested in a fictional football game, which is a very impressive thing to pull off.

Dahlia Adler continues to be a queer YA author you just can’t miss. (Plus, if you’re not following LGBTQ Reads, you need to.)

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