Book Review: Can I Play?, by J. Dillard

can_i_play_coverThis book review is part of series of reviews written by students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for their 7th grade English classes.

Would you change everything for the chance?  In Can I Play?,  that is exactly what Keli Stennes does when she moves from small town girl to big time reality.

J. Dillard created Keli with a rare desire for volleyball, meaning she will do anything she can to reach her goal: a volleyball scholarship. This novel captures Keli’s journey as she meets decisions and bumps into problems, that involve people surrounding her in her life.

I have never read a more inspiring and motivational book. Not only has it taught me more about volleyball, but the desire and motivation from Keli, the main character, is unreal.

This story takes place near the Cascade Mountains, where there are school rivalries between small towns and big cities. Two schools, the Falls City Mountaineers and Dallas Dragons are rivalries in almost all sports. Falls City is the small town in which Keli exchanges for the Dallas school. Keli still lives in Falls City, but drives to Dallas everyday for school. This new city is a big step up for a small town girl.

Keli Stennes is a whole-hearted girl who has volleyball written all over her. She is the Queen of the Jumps, meaning she can jump higher than anyone else on blocking. She is an aggressive 5’11” outside hitter who can hammer the ball almost straight down during games. “She fed her the ball every moment she could with the same results… kill after kill”(pg.191). She is a loving girl who supports her single mother and grandfather since her father’s death. Keli also has respect for everyone around her. She is very friendly to her old and new classmates and teammates. Keli’s mom, Cindy, helps her make the right decisions to guide her life in the right direction. Cindy is always right by Keli’s side with love and support as she goes through her journey, becoming a fonomanal volleyball player. Growing up in Falls City, Cindy is used to the “tight population of 800” (9),  but when Keli changes schools, it opens a whole new world she’s never been in, pushing her to meet new people. Being a widow, Cindy tended to feel lonely at times but started to find love again after reuniting with an old friend.

Ashley is the best setter in the state, and also Keli’s best friend. Ashley faces some difficulties of her own and thankfully has Keli to catch her when she falls. Like Keli, one of Ashleys parents pasted away when she was a little girl. But her dad and Keli’s mom oddly enough became an item. Ashley has always been a Dallas Dragon. When she and Keli met each other at summer camp, they instantly became close and she is the one who convinced Keli to change schools. All is well when they both get on varsity until Ashley’s cousin becomes very sick and ill due to bad decisions with dangerous people.

Back at Falls City, Kelli was the celebrity star of the team. After being convinced by her best friend to change schools, her “old” friends turn on her and she makes new ones. But then she is stuck with the terrifying decision to choose between two boys,  one “she knew her whole life (and) a true real friend”? (242). As Keli makes her way onto the Dallas varsity team she goes to  the coaches office every day after school to receive advice and knowledge to improve her game. She also even takes instruction from Ashley, her best friend who is the setter on the varsity team as well. Suddenly Ashley’s cousin Greta becomes sick due to fooling around with a boy she was forbidden to see. But after she heals, all is good, there is peace between schools, but now there is a new problem. A BIG one.

Through my eyes, the theme of the story was to never be afraid of failure. I think this an important theme because a lot of us are always afraid to either be ourselves, put ourselves out there, or take risks because we don’t know what the outcome will be. Life is about being yourself and letting others put themselves out there and not to judge them back. This captures the story through my perspective.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. I like how it is about my passion volleyball. Keli is a girl who has an incredibly rare desire for the game. It is truly an inspiration. The way the varsity girls played the game in the novel made me think I can do anything if I set my mind to it! I would recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about volleyball. Reading this book reminded me why I love the game so much.

-Nia M., 7th grade

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