A traditional game provides a way for a Mississippi Choctaw teen to step out of the shadows of his sports-hero older brother and dad.
It’s been a year since the death of big brother Jack in Iraq, and Randy is entering Choctaw Central High under heavy pressure from his angry, grieving father to follow family tradition by signing up for football, baseball or some other “American” sport. But Randy has neither interest in nor aptitude for athletics…until he picks up a pair of playing sticks (kapoca) at a community center and discovers that he’s such a natural at the lacrosselike Choctaw game of toli that soon he’s invited by the coach to join an adult team playing in the World Series of Stickball at the upcoming Choctaw Fair. Tellingly, not only is that sport not played at Choctaw Central, but Randy’s father rejects his son’s choice, insisting that those outdated traditional pursuits have no place in the modern world. Though there is some feeling here for the game’s rough play, Robinson, himself of Cherokee and Choctaw descent, focuses more on the clash of values than on-field sports action. Ultimately, the author injects his protagonist with jolts of self-confidence as well as real interest in his culture on the way to bringing both Randy’s school and his father around to a more inclusive attitude.
This worthy tale is definitely agenda-driven, but the cultural and historical information is laid onto the story with a light hand. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-13)