O’Connor tackles a tough one: a high school soccer star caught in a web of gambling.
Jack and his brother, Alex, attend a soccer academy, the kind of institution that grooms students for professional-level play. Their team is a contender for the national championship, but they have just lost their best player to the professional leagues, and a new ringer isn’t fitting in with the team. O’Connor will keep the game’s fans close with plenty of in-the-know soccer patter, but she will also draw other readers with the story of Jack’s slow absorption into a gambling ring. Luka, a flashy Ukrainian with money to burn (a casting choice that falls perilously close to prejudicial stereotyping), befriends Jack, greasing the relationship with some valuable gifts. Readers may find it hard to believe that Jack doesn’t realize every word he drops in Luka’s ear about his senior-division team—who is hurting, who is away for a game—is fodder for Luka’s gambling operation. But Jack does know all about the operation, especially how easy it is to go into debt when the interest is compounded. Jack, Alex, and an unexpected compatriot set up a sting, but not before Luka makes some grisly threats.
Hard-hitting (if a little heavily reliant on suspension of belief) and as memorable as a prison tour for young men who think crime is a sport and a joke. (Sports fiction. 10-16)