How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws

is a 47,000 word young adult novel that explores the relationship between seventeen-year-olds Danny Henderson and Angel McPherson, who both have something to hide. A test-tube baby with lesbian parents, Angel thinks herself a freak and fears the truth about her will destroy her new life in Big River, Iowa. Danny tells his friends his mother died of cancer, when in truth she died in a motorcycle accident while riding on the back of her lover's bike. Secrecy puts a strain on the teens' budding romance that even their strong feelings for each other can't overcome until they discover a simple truth: if love is to flourish, people must allow themselves to be vulnerable.




Review in the June 2003 issue of VOYA

    Angel "the Stone Angel" McPherson is a superb basketball player slated to play on an all-star team.  Outstanding on the court, she is a friendless loner left out of the high school social scene and is the subject of rumors.  Danny "the Bruiser" Henderson is an admired athlete on both the basketball court and the football field.  Son of his high school's football coach, Danny is quiet and well-liked.  When Angel and Danny participate in a charity free-throw contest, they become attracted to each other.  Unlike "normal" teenage couples, however, Danny and Angel have secrets that they loathe to share with others.  Living alone with his father, Danny tells the world that his mother died of cancer when he was an infant.  The harsher truth is that his mother died in a motorcycle accident with her lover, causing Danny's dad to dislike and mistrust women and Danny to feel abandoned.  Angel tells people that her father, an Air Force pilot, died tragically in a training exercise.  The truth is that Angel is a test tube baby, the daughter of a lesbian.  Angel has had many painful moments growing up when friends have discovered the truth about Angel's mother and her "aunt."
    Ripslinger creates believable, empathetic characters in a laudable addition to the young adult problem genre.  Danny and Angel are three-dimensional teens who grow and mature as events fold.  Angel's mother is presented as a normal woman who truly loves her daughter; Danny's father is a good man.  Adult situations and language make this book a good choice for mature readers.


Review in June 2003 issue of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

    Seventeen-year-old Danny Henderson has a reasonably cunning plan: he's going to get close to the girl of his dreams, ace basketball player Angel McPherson, by asking her to coach him on his free throws (and since they really do need improvement, her basketball skills are a considerable plus).  Though his overtures are initially stymied by the fiercely private Angel, Danny persists; as the two become closer, he discovers what she's hiding--she's the daughter, by artificial insemination, of a lesbian mother--but he remains afraid to share his own secret.  The teens' revelations function more like soap opera than genuine emotional drama in the context of the book (Angel historically refers to herself as a "test-tube baby"), but the romance is definitely an appealing one.  Capable Angel isn't your usual heroine, so there's an extra spice to the traditional (and enjoyable) story of winning over the girl who's afraid of getting what she wants.  More interesting than Danny's family secret (his mother, who ostensibly died of cancer, actually was killed in an accident along with her lover) is Danny's relationship with his father, who's the athletic director at Danny's school and who's more complicated than the misogynistic jock he initially appears to be.  Though particularly gratifying to girls worried they'll have to choose between romance and athletics, this has enough solid plot and relationship exploration to draw to a broad range of readers.




Review in April 5, 2003, issue of Booklist Gr. 9-12.

    Even as Angel was beating him in free throws, Danny was falling for her. But tall, attractive Angel is a loner, called Stone Angel by her high-school peers. Even so, Danny is hooked. Angel agrees to secretly coach him, but his hopes for a relationship are chipped away by other secrets-about parents. When Angel breaks her ankle, their lies about parents begin to crack. It turns out that Angel's mom is a lesbian with a live-in lover, and when Danny was a baby, his mom left his dad for her ex-boyfriend and was killed in a motorcycle accident. Tensions climb as peer and parental pressures force the teens to confront truth and trust. Issues of gay parents (and test-tube babies) and honesty in relationships are solidly embedded in the high-school scene. The title tease, the male point-of-view, and the sports framework set up the story for boys, but girls will respond to Angel's character and enjoy this, too. The message about individuality and self identity is an effective slam-dunk.


bullet How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws  Check Prices
bullet ISBN: 0761318925 - Hardcover
bullet Publisher: Millbrook Press, Incorporated
bullet Published Date: 05/01/2003
bullet Nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults
bullet Author:  Jon Ripslinger
bullet How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws  Check Prices
bullet ISBN: 0761327479 - Other
bullet Publisher: Millbrook Press, Incorporated
bullet Published Date: 05/01/2003
bullet Nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults
bullet Author:  Jon Ripslinger


From Chapter One:

    I'd secretly fixed an eye on Angel McPherson the moment she arrived at
Big River High School, at the beginning of the girls' basketball season six
months ago, and now was my chance to put a move on her.
    Me, Danny Henderson, who'd never had a serious date in his life, was
going to hit on the Stone Angel.
    I studied her now as she stepped, relaxed and confident, to the
free-throw line, bouncing the basketball, eying the hoop, her blond ponytail bobbing.
Dressed like her, in a red-and-white Falcons basketball uniform, I crouched on
my haunches on the sideline at center court in our overcrowded gym. We're all
Falcons. We call our gym the Bird Cage-it's that small.
    I was waiting my turn at the hoop for the Free-throw Shooting Contest at
our annual spring charity assembly. The student council sponsors the assembly
in the gym during the first week of April every year. Kids pay a dollar to
listen to student air bands, participate in pie-throwing at volunteer teachers,
and watch the principal kiss a pig. Someone always asks, "Which one is the pig?"
    "The one with the wiggly tail."
    "I still can't tell the difference."
    We can also watch a free-throw shooting contest between a member of the
boys' basketball team and member of the girls' team. The money we raise goes to
help handicapped kids. My best friend and teammate, Tony Gomez, stood behind
me for moral support.
    I eyed Angel McPherson harder. She was the coolest girl I'd ever seen.
She was probably the best female basketball player in the state of Iowa, an
all-state center, playing on an undefeated team that had won the state
championship a month ago. Awesome for a small-town high school in eastern Iowa on the
banks of the Mississippi River.
     We boys had stumbled to a 5-16 mark. Pretty bad.
    Every girl in the gym was rooting for Angel. Their shrill screams pierced
my ears and made me wince. She was so sharp in her basketball outfit I
figured ninety per cent of the guys were rooting for her, too.
Angel stopped dribbling, took a deep breath.
     Silence reigned in the gym.
    Blowing out a long breath, she hoisted the palmed ball to eye level in
her right hand, the left balancing it. She bent her knees, then lofted her shot
in a high arch toward the basket with perfect rotation, her wrist and fingers
extending for follow-through.
    Swish! Nothing but net. Another girl from the girls' team chased the ball
down and tossed it back to Angel.
    "Nice form," Tony whispered in my ear. "And she can shoot the basketball."
    Angel nailed her second shot, and I thought the girls' shrieks would
split the gym's walls and burst the windows.
    In a team meeting, Coach Dunlap had begged for someone to step up and
challenge Angel. The contest was a no-win situation for a guy. If he won, he had
beaten a girl. What pride could he take in that? If he lost, he faced
humiliation and ridicule. Who wanted that?
    Fully understanding the downside, I stepped forward, saying I didn't mind
doing a good deed for charity, even if I might look foolish. I had a lot to
be thankful for compared to handicapped kids, which was true, but everyone
looked at me as if I was crazy. Not a single guy knew of my secret wish to sidle
up to Angel.
     She popped in her third, fourth, and fifth shots. All net. She was in
rhythm now.
    The gym rocked with even louder shrieks.
    I swallowed and shifted my haunches.
    Another thing. Dunlap said he was glad I had volunteered because I needed
all the practice I could get shooting free-throw under pressure. He was right
about that.
     When she dropped in her tenth consecutive free throw, the entire student
body-faculty included-stood, clapped, and cheered for her.
    "We're number one! We're number one!" the girls chanted, pounding their
fists in the air.
    I stood up on the sidelines, my throat dry. I hadn't expected to feel
this shaky, but if my strategy worked, the shakes were worth it. And the
humiliation of losing to her.
    "Just relax, buddy," Tony said. "You can beat her. Keep telling yourself
        The contest format was simple enough. Each shooter would take twenty-five
shots. Ten for the first shooter, ten for the second, followed by another
round of ten for each shooter, then a round of five.
    The most baskets out of twenty-five won. Each shooter had to take
twenty-five shots, even if things looked hopeless for him or her near the end.
     Angel turned and flicked me the ball, a chest-high shot with steam behind
it, her face expressionless, her eyes sliding away from mine.
     As I dribbled the ball to the free-throw line, I paused a moment when she
passed me, and made my first move on her, saying, "Nice shooting."
     She looked at me again. Blankly. Maybe surprised. "Thanks."
    For the first time, I noticed that her mouth was tilted a little, not
much, as if someone had pasted it on her face crooked.
     She'd worked up a nice sweat. Beads of perspiration sprinkled her
forehead and clung to her full upper lip. She'd probably been loosening up in the
upper gym before the assembly started. I should've thought of that.
    As I stood at the free-throw circle, bouncing the ball with my right
hand, then my left, my knees felt weak, my palms, damp. Just like first-game
    Tony stood under the basket, ready to retrieve the ball. "C'mon, buddy.
Just do it. Beat her."

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