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Book Review: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Carrie Soto is Back”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Holy Cross chapter.

I wasn’t expecting to like Carrie Soto as much as I did. We’re first introduced to her in “Malibu Rising,” another TJR novel, in which she is definitely painted as the villain. Nina Riva, one of the many protagonists of “Malibu Rising,” is married to tennis star Brandon Randall. We root for Nina throughout this whole story. With an absent father and a mother who passed when she was young, Nina has raised her siblings virtually on her own. In order to financially support her family, Nina pursues a modeling career that is ultimately unfulfilling to her. So, when Randall cheats on Nina, even after knowing all that she has been through, Reid’s audience hates him. It’s revealed that Randall cheats with Carrie Soto, another tennis champion. In “Malibu Rising,” Soto is painted as an unfeeling and ultra-competitive woman, solely concerned with winning. She doesn’t seem to care that Randall is married, and certainly doesn’t care to perpetuate his guilt. 

“Carrie Soto is Back,” set throughout the 80s and 90s, begins when Carrie’s record of winning the most Slams in history is broken. When this happens, Carrie has already been retired for 5+ years. Sitting next to her father and lifelong coach, Javier, Carrie knows that she must make a comeback to defend her record. The story then jumps to Carrie’s tennis beginnings. We learn that she lost her mother young, not unlike Nina Riva. After this, Javier pours all of his effort into making Carrie into the tennis champion she is meant to be. There is no room for her to be mediocre, she will be the best.

We follow Carrie’s career as she moves from underdog, to champion, and then to retiree. Watching her comeback, and all the struggles that accompany it, we learn that Soto is an unrelenting competitor. With virtually no close friends and a string of one-night stands throughout her life, tennis and her father are the two things that Carrie holds dear. Throughout the novel, Reid also does a good job of portraying the sexism that accompanied the success of female tennis stars, and particularly women of color, in the 90s. Reminiscent of the Williams sisters, who were also coached by their father, Soto is flat-out referred to as a bitch multiple times on live broadcasts throughout the story. As Serena Williams played her last match just a few weeks ago, this novel comes at a specifically poignant time in the history of tennis.

I also loved the ending of this book. No spoilers, but it really reminds us, as readers, what matters in life, love, and sports. Reading a female protagonist who is brazen, bold, and extremely driven is quite a different experience than a lot of the other books I’ve read. There are times when Carrie, admittedly, sacrifices her morals in order to win. However, Reid’s overall message allows for Soto’s drive and effort to shine through, while also displaying her extreme development as a player and a person.

Caroline Sullivan

Holy Cross '23

A Lover of books, coffee, and style from Long Island, New York!