67 pages 2 hours read

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto Is Back

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Carrie Soto is Back is a 2022 novel written by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It is told from the perspective of its titular character, a retired tennis professional who decides to come out of retirement to defend her record. Throughout the novel, Carrie Soto wrestles with her understanding of greatness, her fear of losing both people and matches, and what it means to be a woman playing professional tennis in the latter half of the 20th century. This is Jenkins Reid’s eighth novel. She is most known for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017), Daisy Jones & The Six (2019), and Malibu Rising (2021). The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2017, and Malibu Rising won that same award in 2021.

This study guide is based on the 2022 edition published by Ballantine Books.

Plot Summary

The novel opens in 1994 at the US Open. Carolina “Carrie” Soto sits with her father Javier watching tennis players Nicki Chan and Ingrid Cortez face off in the final of the tournament. If Nicki wins, she will have tied Carrie’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, which Carrie first set before her retirement in 1989. When Nicki wins, Carrie decides to return to tennis with her father as her coach once again.

The novel flashes back to Carrie’s childhood, beginning with Javier’s immigration to the United States in 1953. He came from Argentina, where he was a professional tennis player. Carrie plays tennis from a very young age. When Carrie’s mother dies in a car accident, Javier throws himself (and Carrie) into tennis. He tells her that she will be the greatest player of all time, comparing her to Achilles of The Iliad.

Carrie rapidly improves and enters the main women’s tour in tennis. By now, Javier has instilled in her an insatiable need to win and to achieve her status as the greatest.

At her first tournament, she meets Paulina Stepanova, and they quickly become bitter rivals. Carrie also garners a reputation for being cold and ruthless, earning her the nickname the “Battle Axe.” She wins her first Grand Slam and then three more before she turns 20. Stepanova remains ahead of her in the ranking, and Carrie is obsessed with being number one in the world.

Javier, worried for Carrie, apologizes for pressuring her and says that tennis does not have a “best” player. They argue, and Carrie leaves Javier for another coach named Lars van de Berg. Lars helps her to become number one in the world, but he also encourages her to jump a lot when she plays, which injures her knee. Meanwhile, Carrie has repeated “flings” with men. She has an affair with a married tennis player, but he ultimately leaves Carrie. Fearing further rejection, she pushes men away.

In 1987, Carrie sets the record for most singles Slam titles. However, her knee is injured, and she retires in 1989.

In 1994, Carrie begins training with Javier. Her agent, Gwen Davis, helps set Carrie up with a practice hitter, another tennis professional named Bowe Huntley. Carrie slept with Bowe during her initial run, and she is hesitant at first, but he convinces her to practice together. They become friends.

The first tournament Carrie plays in 1995 is the Australian Open. She progresses through several rounds but loses to Cortez. She is frustrated, but Javier tries to convince her to see how well she did. Carrie begins training for the French Open. As she interacts more with Bowe, Javier encourages her to keep her heart open. Bowe improves his play as well.

During the French Open, Carrie advances to round 16 and wins, moving to the quarterfinal. She finds herself tearing up, and she lets herself cry in front of the crowd, which she has never done before. As she and Javier prepare for her next match against Natasha Antonovich, he admits that he is worried about what Carrie will do if Nicki breaks her record. Losing has always had an effect on her.

Carrie loses to Antonovich, and when Javier tries to reassure her, they fight. That night, she also goes to see Bowe, and he comforts her. She lets him kiss her, and they spend the night together. She and Javier reconcile when he comes to see her when Nicki does indeed break Carrie’s record. When they arrive back home, Javier collapses. He needs heart surgery. He is determined to have it and recover so that he can help Carrie prepare for Wimbledon, even if he won’t be able to travel with her.

Carrie feels terrible about leaving, but she goes. She runs into Nicki a couple of times because they practice on the same courts. One day, she invites Nicki for a drink. They get along, even though they each plan on defeating the other. In the tournament, Nicki is eliminated in the semifinal, leaving Carrie to face Cortez again in the final. She wins.

When she returns home, she finds that Bowe has been caring for Javier. Javier tells Carrie he’s proud, not because she won Wimbledon, but because she played great tennis. He also tries to convince her to give Bowe a real chance. She allows Bowe to stay for dinner one night, and enjoys how normal it seems.

The next morning, Javier doesn’t show up for practice. Carrie goes to his home and finds that he has died. Gwen and Bowe take care of her through her grief. She isn’t sure she’ll compete in the upcoming US Open until she finds Javier’s notebook detailing strategies for beating every woman in the Women’s Tennis Association. She decides to play for him.

Carrie wins her first match, and Bowe makes it to the semifinals before he loses. He does so graciously and decides to retire from tennis. He also tells Carrie that he loves her. Carrie progresses through the tournament, reaching the final with Nicki. Carrie enjoys playing, and she realizes that even if she wins, it’s possible Nicki will beat her record again in the future. Ultimately, Carrie loses, and she is surprised to find that the loss does not destroy her. Instead, she feels relief. For the first time, she doesn’t have to be the best tennis player. She can be whatever she wants.

The Epilogue takes place one year later at the 1996 US Open, with Nicki again playing Cortez. Carrie has become her coach, and she is still with Bowe. The book ends without revealing the result of the match.