"The trick is to let the pot boil slowly. ... Let them think you're just average or ‘good for a girl’ and then slowly, slowly, slowly begin to let your true self shine. That's the only way to avoid feeling the jealous, embarrassed rage of a dude who's been beat."

“The Falconer” presents a refreshingly worthy protagonist: Lucy Adler, a champion 17-year-old Jewish-Italian basketball player coming of age in New York in the mid ’90s and secretly in love with a boy who’s been her best friend since preschool.

Lucy is street-smart, vulnerable, cynical, thoughtful – a multi-layered outcast who is destined to get her heart broken. “Mostly I like talking to him. Because the world rains arrows and honey whenever he’s near me. Painful and sweet.” Lucy’s pain is palpable but not overdone. Bad things happen, but some good things happen too. And Lucy takes it all in stride. She’s a girl to love.

Percy, the object of her crush, remains oblivious to the feelings of young women, outwardly resistant to the entitlements of his wealthy family but destined to lead a life of convention. Lucy, on the other hand, grapples with what kind of young woman she wants to be. Luckily she is surrounded by some compelling examples in her mother, her friends and her cousin Violet. Violet, a struggling painter, lives in a loft with an avant-garde feminist artist and supplies Lucy with books that seem to come with perfect timing, such as Simone de Beauvoir’s “Second Sex.”

Lucy yearns more than anything to play ball and to be free like the boy falconer in the city statue she admires. But she can’t escape wanting to also be the kind of girl that attracts Percy, a more obvious beauty or even “the kind that infiltrates the mind and heart gradually ... the kind of beauty that doesn’t register at first, but then you find it lingering in your senses.”

She moves past the hurt of his inevitable rejection, receiving good advice from her friend Alexis, another square peg, “You’ve got añoranza, Loose. Now that the reality of who he is has been revealed to you, from now on, when you miss him, you’ll only be missing the dream of him. I don’t know a word for that in any language.”

Czapnik’s background as a sports journalist serves her well in this debut novel. She not only captures an era and a city with beautiful, vivid detail, her descriptions of bodies and movement on and off court are true art.