A YA novel tells the story of teens’ coming-of-age in a football-obsessed city.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, football is woven into the fabric of everyday life. Senior Janus Mann, the starting quarterback of his high school football team, has run afoul of his coach and is worrying he doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader. He is still mourning his dead father and has regular telepathic conversations with Curly Lambeau, the legendary (and deceased) coach of the Green Bay Packers. “Curly often replies with a voice in my head,” narrates Janus. “And no, it’s not my imagination, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Janus isn’t the only one with problems. His crush, the flute player Asha Silver, is struggling with her alcoholic ex-boxer father. Barnaby Grayna is the son of Janus’ coach, though he doesn’t play football because his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has confined him to a wheelchair. The main antagonist in Barnaby’s life is his effective (but disrespectful) physical therapist. The three teens work together to get out from underneath the weights in their lives—physical limitations, parental expectations, and familial histories—in order to meet adulthood on their own terms. In a town that loves football, Janus, in particular, must contend with the ghosts of the past to free himself for the future. Mancheski (Shoot for the Stars, 2014, etc.) writes in an amiable prose that captures both Janus’ voice and the mysticism inherent in old-time football. Here Janus and Asha visit Lambeau Field: “ ‘Ghosts…’ I say....The wind through the empty seats creates a low pitch, like an oboe being played a quarter-mile away. If you close your eyes it becomes a monk-like hum. ‘Of twenty million Packer fans past.’ ” The characters are endearing and well-drawn, but the novel’s plot is somewhat shaggy and meandering. The book takes a long time to get to a fairly boilerplate ending, and it could easily be 100 pages shorter. But Mancheski deftly paints adolescence in the same dreamy nostalgia as the early days of football. It may not ring completely true to readers, but it’s a pleasant enough place to spend some time.
A rosy, feel-good sports tale.