Skid

Skid

Skid was first published in 2012 and was written by Doug Solter. It is a contemporary novel about a teenage girl following her dream to become a Formula One racer. The story is the first part of a series and is followed by Rivals (2014) and Legends (2015).

Samantha has always been a fan of fast cars. It’s only on the racetrack that she feels fully alive. After she survives the horror crash that kills her father, she decides that she wants to pursue a career in racing. Although she struggles with haunting memories of that terrible night, she is determined to overcome them. Racing was her father’s dream and she wants to honour his memory.

When she learns that the Wolert Porsche Formula One team is recruiting young talent, Samantha knows that she has a chance. Bluffing her way into the test session, she dazzles the owner by beating the lap times of every other driver and wins a place on the team. However, racing is a man’s game and she soon finds herself at a disadvantage. Even her own team are reluctant to let her behind the wheel, purely because she’s a girl.

Worse still is the legendary Ferrari driver, Emilio Ronaldo. He is certain that he’ll win out as he’s certain that girls are too emotional and compassionate to be any sort of competition on the track. Yet as Samantha’s confidence grows as she starts creep up the leaderboards and suddenly it looks as though she’ll have a shot at stealing Emilio’s crown. Will she be able to pull ahead and prove that women have a place in racing, or will her nerves get the better of her?

I’ve got a slightly different disclaimer for this week’s review. I just thought I’d admit before I begin that I know absolutely nothing about cars, let alone Formula One racing. While I didn’t really feel as though I’m really the target audience for this story, I’m pleased to say that my lack of understanding wasn’t really an issue here either. I never once felt lost in the story and none of the technical terms used ever went over my head.

Skid is an incredibly fast paced novel and is quick to draw the reader in. The novel opens on a particularly exciting race, clearly displaying how dangerous the sport is as well as the protagonist’s skill and fearlessness. The first third of the story is especially strong. After a couple of chapters of introduction, Samantha makes her way to Indianapolis and the plot really kicks into gear. Even though I’m not a huge fan of sport fiction, I couldn’t help but feel a little excited. The novel was just so fast paced that it was rather exhilarating to read.

It was in the description of the races that Solter really excelled as a writer. You can tell that he’s knowledgeable about the different tracks and the way that Formula One cars handle, making each race more thrilling than the last. I also love the way that he expressed Samantha’s love for speed. Samantha always refers to her car as being her best friend, almost anthropomorphising it as she describes the way it handles and seems to want to be pushed. At times, it almost felt as though she was describing riding a dragon rather than a soulless machine.

However, the story did have a lot of nagging problems. To look at it first from a structural perspective, the narrative bounces around an awful lot. Not only does the first person narrative flip between Samantha and Manny, her eventual love interest, but it seems to skip over important parts of the story. For example, we don’t see anything of Samantha’s training with the Porsche team. After she’s recruited, two months pass between chapters and the story after that really just flips from race to race, occasionally with the odd chapter dedicated to showing what happened immediately after. While this was bearable, I felt that it missed out on a lot of potential for character development. We saw a lot of Samantha as a racer but far less of her just being a normal seventeen year old girl.

I also had some issues with way the story presented its main theme of sexism. Being female, this is something that resonates deeply with me as a reader. First off, I will just say that I found Skid to be a bold novel. The sporting world is still very much male orientated. Most televised sport is very much geared to men. Just think of the TV coverage that men’s football gets compared to women’s! Skid does do a fantastic job of presenting the grimy underbelly of Formula One, clearly detailing how the racers view it to be a kind of institution where women only exist to be pretty faces.

This is particularly clear in the novel with the expectations of Samantha’s photoshoot. She’s horrified to find that the photographer expects her to play up her gender by posing on the bonnet of a car in her lingerie. The expectation here is that readers of the magazine aren’t really interested in Samantha the race winner but instead are more interested in presenting her as a sex icon. However, I did feel as though the novel went a little too far. Almost every male character in the story is a sexist douche bag. Even the closest members of her team ogle her, make derogatory comments or straight up treat her like crap because she wasn’t born with testicles. Even though I know from experience that some men do behave this way, I refused to believe that every man in the world does. Some of these characters have wives and daughters. Do they treat them in the same way that they treat Samantha?

This novel really does not paint anyone with a Y chromosome (except for perhaps Mr Wolert) in a very positive light. This also tarnished my view of the ending. I can’t really say much here because I don’t want to spoil the story but I just didn’t find it satisfying. I hated Emilio with every fibre of my being but still felt as though he got the last laugh, which really left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Additionally, I felt that the subplot regarding Samantha’s father was really tagged on. Minor spoilers here (I say minor because a lot of this is eluded to in the novel’s blurb) but Samantha is actually actively responsible for her Dad’s death because she was driving irresponsibly while he was asleep in the passenger seat. This didn’t help me warm to her as a character at all. Whenever she lamented his death and complained that her family didn’t want anything to do with her, I could never feel very sorry for her. What she did was stupid and reckless but she rarely seemed remorseful. Samantha professed to be traumatised in her internal monologue but only mentioned this infrequently (and hardly at all in the first third of the story). If she was truly riddled with guilt I would have thought that it would haunt her every waking moment, not just come and go as the plot required.

Beyond Samantha and Manny, I never really felt that the characters received any kind of development. At best, they went from disliking Samantha to liking her but there was little beyond that. Of the two protagonists, Samantha was marginally more interesting. Although I did find it hard to believe that she was seventeen because she was rather naïve (I would have probably placed her closer to twelve), I did largely support her and certainly wanted to see her win out over the naysayers.

Manny was more problematic. I think that Solter’s intention was for him to be geeky-cute but this just didn’t come across at all. Manny was spineless and rather creepy. While I did appreciate the lengths that the author went to make his narrative sound different to Samantha’s, he was very stalkerish and frequently invaded her personal space without her consent. The slow development of his relationship with Samantha did feel realistic but I honestly wished that she’d chosen to fall for anyone else over him.

Wow, this review is getting long. I guess I’ll summarise. My opinion of Skid is rather mixed. While it was fast paced and exciting, it did have some issues with its themes and characterisation. I’m left curious enough to want to know what will happen in Rivals but still a little underwhelmed on the whole.

Skid can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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