Taylor Jenkins Reid Is Back: Her Latest Novel Reviewed


Ballantine Books

The front cover of “Carrie Soto Is Back.”

Bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid has returned with her latest novel “Carrie Soto Is Back.” Loosely based on the career of tennis player Serena Williams, the book tells the story of Carrie Soto, a tennis superstar emerging from retirement to defend her Grand Slam record. Spanning from the 1970s until the 1990s, “Carrie Soto Is Back” entrances its audience with a compelling narrative and driven characters. 

The story begins with Carrie’s early childhood. Her mother, Alicia, is killed in a car accident, leaving Carrie to be raised by her father, Javier Soto, a retired professional tennis player. She shows a natural knack for the sport from a young age, and under the intense coaching of her father, Carrie’s skill blossoms. However, as her father praises her talents, Carrie’s ruthlessness and competitiveness grow. She struggles to take her losses and looks to win at any cost. 

Carrie’s official tennis career begins in the late 1970s. Years of intense training seem to have paid off, and Carrie scores win after win. She becomes obsessed with beating her rivals, especially Russian player Paulina Stepanova, and displays a viciousness on the court that earns her the nickname “The Battle Ax.” Her cold behavior towards the press and her fellow players make her a divisive figure in tennis, even as she dominates the sport. She goes on to win 20 Grand Slams, setting the record for most Grand Slam titles won by a woman. 

However, Carrie’s career ended suddenly in the late 1980s. Obsessed with winning, Carrie is unable to handle the limitations her recurring injuries place on her ability, and she chooses to retire to save her dignity. Though she has accomplished much in her career, Carrie leaves tennis feeling unsatisfied. 

Then, in 1994, her prized Grand Slam record is threatened by an emerging English player, Nikki Chan. Though she is thirty-seven years old and considered too old for the sport by many commentators, Carrie returns to the sport to reclaim her record. The general public was skeptical of her return — journalists bad-mouth her, fellow players look down on her, and many tennis fans consider her too old to win another Grand Slam. As she sets out to play again, the tennis world wonders if Carrie Soto will manage to face off against the new, younger crowd of players.

Like many of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s other novels, “Carrie Soto Is Back” is fast-paced, engrossing, and hard to put down. Accessible to those with little or no knowledge of tennis, the descriptions of breakneck, back-and-forth matches keep the audience on their toes. Carrie Soto’s intriguing (and almost unlikable) character also adds to the novel’s appeal: her imperfections and drive are characteristics that many can relate to. Also, Reid succeeds at creating a non-stereotypical, strong female lead who is both admirable and ambiguous. Overall, “Carrie Soto Is Back” stands up to the hype surrounding it, and proves itself a compelling read.