Annie Boots, a talented white teen athlete in long-term foster care, employs an innovative strategy to circumvent an order prohibiting contact with her birth family.
The Howard family (Pop, Momma, and son, Marvin) meet Annie’s needs, but she refuses to sever contact with her half sister, Sheila, and their biological mother, Nancy. Annie knows they’re violent drug abusers but hopes to at least help protect Sheila’s disturbed 5-year-old son. She recalls her own miserable early years of repeatedly being removed from, then returned to, Nancy’s custody, skilled as she was at cheating on drug tests. The title references Annie’s practice of combining basketball tournaments with secret birth-family encounters, deliberately losing early games so that more must be played in order for the team to advance. Physical fitness, good looks, and intelligence signal worth in the story, while Annie’s mother and half sister are portrayed as sullen, slovenly, and criminally inclined, repeatedly betraying the children who trust them. One-dimensional characters deliver didactic pronouncements, among them Annie’s social worker—mood set to righteous indignation—who rails at a broken child protection system, its failures vaguely attributed to generations of irresponsible parents and incompetent dupes. At a time of growing income inequality and widespread drug addiction, the judgments rendered here appear harsh and simplistic.
A portrait of a troubled family that falls short. (Fiction.14-18)