Mel is actually Melinda, the only girl in the wrestling room at Ashton High outside Detroit, and the lead character in Alfred C. Martino's latest novel, Perfected by Girls, now available from Coles Street Publishing.
Three years ago, Martino penned Pinned, an award-winning novel about two very different New Jersey high school wrestlers on a collision course to a possible state title. Martino has been involved in the sport most of his life, first as a wrestler, and, for the past decade, as a coach in the Garden State.
After finishing Pinned, Martino was looking for a new subject for a novel ... and the idea of a book about a high school girl who happens to be a wrestler came to mind. Thus the birth of Perfected by Girls. (The inspiration for the title came from a T-shirt that Martino saw on a girl wrestler which said, "Wrestling: Invented by boys. Perfected by girls." In the book, Melinda's parents gave her a shirt with that message as a Christmas gift.)
In many ways, Perfected by Girls' protagonist Melinda Radford is the typical high school girl. She has a best friend Jade with whom she spends hours on the phone talking about boys and classes, a closet full of girly-girl clothes, and an older sibling (Cole) who hardly seems to be the model of brotherly love. Like so many teens, Melinda's world is in flux; in addition to navigating the potential pitfalls of high school, she has a grandmother who is pressuring her to work a boring internship in a corporate office, and a new boyfriend who is placing demands of his own on her.
However, what makes Melinda somewhat unique -- at least in her school -- is that she is on the wrestling team ... which means long hours in the practice room, and in running endless miles of roadwork with her brother Cole, whose success in the sport is the product of his year-round obsession that he thinks his younger sister should make her own.
As a wrestler, Melinda is up against all the challenges all amateur wrestlers share. However, unlike the tens of thousands of high school boys who go out for the sport nationwide, Melinda has to deal with cramps and weight-gain from monthly periods ... and the feeling of separation from her teammates because she can't change into her gear in the same locker room. Melinda also has to face workout partners and opponents who cop a feel, taunt her verbally, or rough her up physically in ways they wouldn't try with a male counterpart, because they resent being on the mat with a girl ... or don't want to get shown up by a member of "the weaker sex." Not to mention those who speculate on her sexuality, or wonder what her real motives for going out for wrestling in the first place.
How Perfected came together
After completing the actual writing -- then promotion -- of Pinned, Alfred Martino wanted to write another wrestling novel ... but not just any wrestling novel, realizing, in recent years, there have been a number of fictional books about high school matmen, but, to his knowledge, none about girl wrestlers.
Alfred Martino"I went into this with the premise of males wrestling as being a mature notion -- that it has been written about," said Martino, who has been involved in the sport himself for nearly four decades. "I thought it would make for an interesting story to write a book about a girl wrestler -- a story that would appeal to both male and female readers."
Martino did his homework. "I corresponded with about 20 girls -- college-age, and post-college --- about their high school wrestling experience."
"At first, I figured that girls' attitudes about wrestling would be different than boys'," said Martino. "However, in talking to girls who are competing in wrestling, their competitive attitudes are much like competitive boys."
"In talking to these young women, what I realized that made things different were their experiences beyond the competitive wrestling -- for instance, the way a boy touches you, is it wrestling, or something sexual? Or, where you have to change -- not being in the same locker room with your teammates. How you deal with periods and water retention. How you deal with an opponent who gets aroused."
"With almost all the girls I talked to, they had experiences that a boy didn't have to deal with," Martino continued. "The story for my book (that became Perfected by Girls) would include these aspects that you might not think about as a wrestling fan."
"I wanted to go against stereotypes," said Martino. "In doing research, I discovered that many of the stereotypes about girl wrestlers aren't true."
"In writing the book, I didn't want to pigeonhole Mel into the notion of what people might expect. I think it makes it interesting for the reader that she is interested in fashion, and has a close girl friend (Jade) who isn't in wrestling."
Weighing in on women's wrestling
"Girls' wrestling is still very much in the beginning stages," said Martino, who was wrestling team captain Millburn High School in New Jersey, and wrestled in college at Duke. "A girl wrestling a varsity match is a big deal. Look at how much coverage there was in the mainstream media about the boy in Iowa who refused to wrestle a girl at the state tournament." (At the 2011 Iowa high school wrestling championships, sophomore Joel Northrup -- who had placed third at the event the previous year -- defaulted rather than wrestle freshman Cassy Herkelman in the first round of the tournament, citing religious reasons.)
"I think it's is disappointing for a girl who has so much initiative to go out for such a tough sport, to have to deal with extra stuff such as, 'Is this boy touching me inappropriately?' or 'Am I a lesbian?' I can imagine there's a segment of girls who would want to wrestle but don't want to deal with these side issues."
Martino added, "There are very realistic limitations of a girl competing against a boy in wrestling. There's a point where boys are stronger, and that alone can get girls to leave the sport in frustration."
"We're losing a whole bunch of girls who might not want to deal with wrestling with boys."
"I think we'd see a lot more girls in the sport if there wasn't an issue of dealing with boys."
"If there's a theme to the book, I think it would be better for boys to wrestle boys, and girls wrestle girls," said Martino, who, in the InterMat interview for Perfected by Girls, pointed out, in collegiate and Olympic competition, and, for high schoolers in a handful of states, males and females compete separately.
"As wrestling has benefited from MMA (mixed martial arts) and all the publicity of former wrestlers finding success in that sport, women in wrestling ultimately will help the sport overall," Martino continued. "People are seeing the value of wrestling as a sport. Why shouldn't those values and benefits of wrestling be available to women?"
"We could add so many more fans to the sport."
Alfred Martino's newest novel, Perfected by Girls, could also serve to welcome more fans -- and participants -- to amateur wrestling. As a former wrestler and active coach, Martino paints a very realistic picture of a high school wrestling room, and the action during actual matches. By being the first book to bring together whizzers, takedowns, and other wrestling terminology with Juicy Couture, Calvin Klein and other fashion labels residing in the lead character's closet, Perfected by Girls will do its part to bring more young people -- male and female -- to the benefits of wrestling, and a greater appreciation of those of both sexes who compete in it.
To purchase Perfected by Girls online, visit the Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites. To get a signed copy of the book from the author, contact Alfred Martino directly via his website, www.AlfredMartino.com.
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