book review,  Books

When the Men Were Gone – Book Excerpt & Review

With thanks to Lone Star Lit, I’m joining in their book blog tour of When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis. I’ve got a lot for you today: an excerpt from this heartfelt and wonderful tale, my review, a book trailer, AND a giveaway for a chance to win your own copy! I give this quick but delightfully wonderful read 4 stars! Many thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of the book for review purposes. As always, all opinions and typos are my own!


Genre: Historical / Biographical / Sports Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow 
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Number of Pages: 240

Scroll down for giveaway!

A cross between Friday Night Lights and The Atomic City Girls, When The Men Were Gone is a debut historical novel based on the true story of Tylene Wilson, a woman in 1940s Texas who, in spite of extreme opposition, became a female football coach in order to keep her students from heading off to war.

Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas. Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on. Each September brings with it the hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.

Now, the war has changed everything. Most of the Brownwood men over eighteen and under forty-five are off fighting, and in a small town, the possibilities are limited. Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy’s knee. She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.

Faced with extreme opposition by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees — and even the players themselves — Tylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team — and the town — to a Friday night and a subsequent season they will never forget. 

Based on a true story, When the Men Were Gone is a powerful and vibrant novel of perseverance and personal courage.


“Sublimely ties together the drama of high school football, gender politics, and the impact of war on a small town in Texas.” – Best of Books, 2018, Sports Illustrated

“A beautiful story that stays in your heart long after you finish reading.” – Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author

“Based on a true story that most people probably don’t know, readers will find plenty to love in Herrera Lewis’ debut.” — Kirkus Review

CLICK TO PURCHASE When the Men Were Gone
Men Were Gone

Excerpt from When the Men Were Gone

By Marjorie Herrera Lewis

WHEN I ARRIVED at the school ten minutes shy of our eight o’clock meeting, I spotted Mr. Redwine’s car in the lot. The side door of the building leading to the principal’s office was unlocked. I put my unused key back in my purse, walked in, and headed straight to Mr. Redwine’s office, a soft sunlight bouncing off the lockers and the sound of my black one-inch pumps echoing in the empty hallway.

“Morning, Mr. Redwine,” I said.

“So why am I here on a Saturday morning?” he asked while he fussed with the coffeepot. “Moose is out. Now what?”

“If you’re going to try to convince me that we have time to find a replacement, Tylene, let me tell you something, we don’t.”

I noticed he hadn’t a clue about what to do, so I gently took the pot from him and began making the coffee. Not looking at him as I dipped a spoon into the grinds, I said, “The boys need to play football.”

“Give it up, Tylene,” he said. He hunched his shoulders as if to say he’d had enough. “We’ve gone over this. Give me something new. Why did you have to tell me this today?”

“We’re running out of time, and I want to do this. Mr. Redwine, let me coach the boys.”

I wasn’t prepared for his response.

“So he was right,” Mr. Redwine said.

“Who? Right about what?”

“Gil Duenkler. He stopped by the office yesterday and warned me. Said you’d do exactly this. He called it a coup.”

“A coup? Seriously? You believe anything Moonshiner has to say? What else did he tell you—that he’s been following me? Saw me taking notes in the parking lot?”

“Notes that he says undermined Moose.”

I was livid. I’d known Moonshiner had spied me in the parking lot, but he must have zeroed in on my notes when he’d stood over my shoulder. I had tucked them away from his view, but apparently not in time.

“‘Boys don’t pay attention,’” Mr. Redwine recited. “‘Jimmy needs to learn to pass and not throw.’ ‘Receivers don’t watch the ball into their hands.’ ‘Backups not engaged.’ What was that? A list of grievances to get rid of him? Make it look like you hired him knowing he wasn’t capable so that you could step in at the eleventh hour and force our hand? Is that it, Tylene?”

“I’m speechless,” I said.

“Don’t do this to me!” Mr. Redwine formed a fist with his right hand and extended his pointer finger, pounding it twice on the table and nearly knocking the coffeepot over. “Tylene, you know I respect you. You’re a fine teacher “administrator. And frankly, there’s no one else I’d rather have in charge of academics. You’re the best in town. No question. But Tylene, this is 1944, not 1984. Women might coach football in the future, but they do not coach football now! Not even in a time of war. And they never do a man’s job unless a man is not available. Get Moose back, Tylene, or drop it.”

“Mr. Redwine, I wasn’t undermining Moose,” I said. I maintained my composure. “I was helping him. I kept notes of what was going wrong, and after each practice we’d meet at my house. I’d let him know what I saw and how things could be improved. Yes, I kept notes. Lots of notes.”

I turned toward the coffeepot and stared at it while I waited for the water to warm up. The room had fallen silent but for the humming of the machine.

In the silence, my mind harkened back to the day that put me on the path to this moment with Mr. Redwine.

“What was it like for you on that December morning?” I asked.”

“When Mr. Redwine did not answer, I turned back and saw him looking at me as if I weren’t there. I waited.

“Tell me. What were you doing when you heard?” Again, I waited.

“Just come home from lunch, the Mrs. and me,” he said. “Mit met us at church and took us out to grab a bite afterward.

“Had the radio going. Angie likes to listen to music after church. Keeps her uplifted. Then, just like it must have been for nearly everyone in town—heck, everyone coast to coast—a live report interrupted the music. I turned up the radio and called her into the living room. We sat on the sofa listening to the reports.

“It didn’t seem real until she began to cry, and we both knew that life in America would never be the same—not the way it had been when we’d gone to bed the night before. I guess that darkness was like a curtain. Pulled back that morning, and everything we’d known was gone.”

“You did know Jack McSorley was stationed there, right?” I asked.”

“In that moment, I sensed that Mr. Redwine finally understood what it meant, even to him, to keep the boys playing, to keep them home for one more year.

“Tylene, I get it,” he said. “But I’m not the problem. So I give you the okay, what then? Have you really thought this through? You’re trying to protect those boys, and that’s mighty fine, Tylene, mighty fine, but I’m trying to protect you.”

“I have thought it through, Mr. Redwine,” I said. “And I appreciate your protection, but I’m not facing war. I can handle myself. You know what else? I can handle those boys, too. And I can coach football.

“Look, if Jimmy had flipped the football to the halfback on the triple option on third down on the last possession against Abilene last season, knowing the linebacker had already bitten on the fullback dive, we would have won the game. If we had stuffed the box, and our middle linebacker had stunted on Abilene’s last touchdown, we would not only have “stopped the run, we would have sacked the quarterback. Our punt return team can’t find the lanes, and our blockers need to improve their torques.”

Mr. Redwine didn’t say a word. He stood motionless as if paralyzed by fear. Then he began to pace with his eyes fixed on the floor. He ran his fingers through his hair, looked up at me, and appeared prepared to speak, but he stopped himself. He began to pace again, not looking up at me this time. Finally, he took a loud, deep breath, and then exhaled. He turned to me.

“Dagblastit, Tylene.”

I waited. He paced some more. He was taking so long I nearly broke the silence, but I waited. Finally, he spoke.

“I can’t believe I’m about to do this,” he said. As if he were afraid of what he was about to say, he stopped once more and again began to pace.

“What time will you need the field?” he asked.

I smiled, extended my right hand, and said, “The usual—three o’clock to four thirty, Monday through Thursday.” As we “shook hands, I asked, “So why the change of heart?”

“Because I have no idea what in Sam Hill you just said.”

When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis is a heartfelt historical fiction tale about a topic near and dear to many a Texan heart -football – and of the woman who stands to face discrimination even as she steps up to lead the local high school football team. However, you don’t have to be a football fan to love this story! At just over 200 pages, this was a quick and easy read.

What makes the story even more amazing is that it is based on the real-life story of Tylene Wilson, who took over coaching the local high school team during WWII when the remaining men in town were unwilling/unable.

Herrera-Lewis’ journalist background is evident in the vivid details of the story, from the setting to the characters to the football games themselves. The football matches and the scenes with Tylene’s family particularly shone, giving the reader a colorful picture of the Tylene and her love of the game as well as her love of the area. Her writing is clear and crisp and lyrical all at once.

When late summer rolled around, all I needed was to hear my father say, “I saw a nut on the ground this morning,” and I’d bust out of the kitchen’s screen door, grab a bucket off the back porch, and scramble to the first pecan tree I could reach, singing the Brownwood Lions’ fight song all the while. Still singing, I’d crawl on my knees and gather up pecans…The briars and weeds beneath the tree didn’t bother me. I considered a scraped knee a sign that a good pie would soon be on the way.

– from When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

The author also succeeds in writing a story that shows passion and emotion. Tylene wanted to coach the local boys to protect them – to keep them out of trouble, to keep them from being enlisted, and to keep their spirits up. She knew the value of football in lifting the spirit of the community. The story also conveys the sadness of those lost in the war and the pain that those who returned from it were feeling.

When the Men Were Gone is very much a character-driven story, and I absolutely adored the character of Tylene. She is passionate and caring, full of spunk and yet level-headed. She is what drew me into this story.

This is the story of a woman who, like many during WWII, stepped up to fill a role left empty by the men who went to war, one who did it willingly, passionately, and in the face of many who thought her not up to the job simply because she was a woman. It’s a victorious novel of a woman who stood up in the face of discrimination for love of the game and love of her community.

“So you’re going to let her do this?” Vern said. “You know how bad that’ll make you look? I mean, what kind of a man allows his wife to coach football? Not to mention the toll it’ll take on you. Someone’s got to wear the dress in the house. So what’s your color, John? Soft pink?” Vern laughed.

– from When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

While the ending was satisfying, I was surprised to find myself at the end of the book (despite evidence of the page count), and I was left with questions that might have been tidily served by an epilogue. What happened with the rest of the season? How did the team fare? Was she better accepted after the first game?

Overall, this short and sweet story of football and feminism was a delight, an interesting perspective on the other roles women filled as well as the strength they showed in doing so.


 Marjorie Herrera Lewis is an award-winning sportswriter, named the first female Dallas Cowboys beat writer when she was with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She later joined the SportsDay staff of The Dallas Morning News, where she continued to cover the NFL and professional tennis. She is currently a contributing sportswriter for 

While writing When the Men Were Gone, she became inspired to try her hand at coaching football herself and was added to the Texas Wesleyan University football coaching staff in December 2016. Marjorie has degrees from Arizona State University, The University of Texas in Arlington, Southern New Hampshire University, and certificates from Southern Methodist University, and Cornell University. She is married and has two grown daughters and one son-in-law.



June 18-28, 2019

men were gone

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