In Yamile Saied Méndez new YA novel, Furia, two childhood friends in Rosario, Argentina grow up to fall in love — with each other and with fútbol. But their paths diverge as the game becomes not just an expression of childhood joy, but a symbol of masculinity and its ties to wealth and resources.
Diego Ferrari, known as El Titán on the pitch, is scooped up by Juventus where he becomes a global superstar. He drives a BMW and lives a life of luxury in Italy. Whispering fans shadow him everywhere he goes, and his name splashes across jerseys worn around the world.
Camila Hassan has the same innate talent and a twin flame of passion. She wants to play professionally in the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League. She wants to star in a World Cup. She wants to win, but her life falls short of a fútbol fairytale. In Argentina, women were only granted the right to play soccer in the 1990s, and still, it’s far from celebrated. Camila plays on an uneven field with potholes ready to twist ankles. Her cleats have holes in them, she can’t afford a phone, and she has to hide her play from her family lest they make her quit her team. She has burdens even heavier than her secret to carry, too. Her father is abusive, her mother often sick with sadness, and her city regularly mourns the deaths and disappearances of young girls.
And yet Camila is resilient, or in her own word, incorrigible. She earns her own nickname, Furia, because her energy on the field ignites her entire squad and carries them to glory. She’s also rightfully furious at her circumstances and those of the women and girls around her. It is her absolute conviction that she deserves the world that makes her such a compelling, endearing narrator. I rooted for Camila just as hard off the field as I did for her during her games.
Her romance with Diego feels genuine and emotionally earned, but he also represents everything Camila dreams of for herself. “I wanted what he had,” she says. “I needed to play on a team like that, to feel the love of the fans. I needed the chance to do something impossible and amazing. To be great. I wanted Diego’s life. But I wanted to live it, not watch it from the sidelines.”
So much of the novel focuses on her romance with Diego, and though I felt at times worried for her — my gut screaming for her to run away from the entitlement that inevitably comes with Diego’s newfound superstardom — Camila is right to believe she deserves both her own dreams and a love story with this person she cares about so much. Her mother warns her: “Mamita, you can’t have it all. You’ll see.” But she rages internally: “Although I wanted to yell that this was the greatest lie told to girls like us for centuries, seeing the defeat in her eyes, I couldn’t find my voice.”
Though Camila’s relationship with her mother is fraught, it’s ultimately the most rewarding of the novel. Saied Méndez allows her characters to be flawed and weak in some moments and righteous and strong in others. They are shaped by their histories but given room to grow. They feel like real people navigating complex, evolving relationships, and when they do show up for each other, it’s felt so deeply. Camila’s relationship with her best friend, Roxana, is similarly well developed. Their friendship, and their community with their coach and teammates, really does feel like a family.
In Furia, Saied Méndez captures both the breathless beauty of fútbol and the depth of its political power. Sports intersect with gender, class, race, and identities around the world, and there’s still so much ground to be covered in telling the stories that live at these intersections. This novel is a thoughtful, vibrant addition. Camila shows readers that they can have it all, even if it’s not exactly as they planned it. She insists girls have every right to dream, to want, to live, and it is a pleasure to watch this character do all three things with love and fury in equal measure.
By Yamile Saied Méndez
Algonquin Young Readers
September 15, 2020
Jen St. Jude is the fiction editor for Arcturus Magazine, Managing Editor at the Chicago Review of Books, and has work in Gigantic Sequins, The Rumpus, and F(r)iction. Her YA novel is about two girls in love at the end of the world. Find them on Twitter: @jenstjude.