A ninth-grade distance runner learns the meanings of loyalty, compassion, brotherhood, and self-reliance in Kenley’s lively debut coming-of-age novel.
When ninth-grader Sherman Kindle joins the cross-country track team at Pennsgap High School in rural Indiana, he has many more questions than answers. Why is his profanity-prone coach, Joel Viddstein, sleeping on the floor of the wrestling room? (It turns out to be only one of many crises in the coach’s dysfunctional life.) Can Kindle possibly keep up with teammate Adam Keane, who can easily run two miles in 10 minutes and 32 seconds? Can he also compete with his own annoying identical twin, Hyter? The stakes mount as the season unfolds, as their lowly team, the Snapping Turtles, goes up against the Ridgeline Salukis, a team so strong that it runs eight miles to a meet, wins, then runs all the way back to its school. Perhaps worse, the coach obsesses over what he calls “the loins” and forbids his team from having any sex during the season. In a hilarious exchange, Hyter says that he needs to know if he can still masturbate five or six times a day; “Son,” the coach replies, “I’m amazed you even have the energy to stand.” Set in an era when mullets and big hair ruled, the story often sparkles with the unique humor of adolescent life. For example, when rough-hewn team captain and senior Jeff Slade asks Kindle to hook him up with a well-developed freshman girl, Kindle agrees reluctantly but worries that she’ll be hurt. To scare her off, he tells her that Slade will spank her, tie her up, and keep her as his sex slave in the back of his van. “Sold,” she says with a purr. However, the narrative does slow occasionally when describing running technicalities that will mainly appeal to other runners. Just as the grueling regimen strengthens his muscles, Kindle matures as a character as a result of weathering conflicts, and just as his character arc rises as the plot unwinds, the coach’s falls in counterpoint. In the end, Kindle, the team, and their coach share a well-earned moment of grace that readers will feel they deserve.
A solid debut set in the demanding world of high school distance runners, lit with pathos and humor.