A debut YA novel tells the story of a high school junior trying to get a grip on his basketball game—and his life.
Stevie Kalkannes’ friends call him the “Gym Class Hero” because, despite his skills on the basketball court—“Known as the best three ball shooter in the school, I could rain threes, teardrops from the sky”—he has refused to play for the Jackson High School team. But during his junior year, a new coach comes to town, and Stevie decides he might want to start living up to the legacy of his star older brother, Benny. Stevie makes the cut even though he spends all his free time pining after the new girl at school, Mindy Derosiers. Despite Stevie’s inexperience with romance, he and Mindy manage to hit it off—though she proves to be a more complicated girlfriend than he expected. The stress over Mindy and various unresolved emotions surrounding his family and basketball may be at the root of his new problem: missing key free throws at the ends of games. But help comes from unlikely sources. At first, Stevie thinks the two girls in his Food and Fitness class, Alison Johnson and Jillian, are just health nuts. As it turns out, their ideas about mindfulness might be just what Stevie needs to take back control of his game. Like many teenage narrators, Stevie is jocular and sarcastic. Yet Kalmbach’s prose isn’t one-note, and Stevie’s shtick often takes a back seat to more lyrical passages: “A first period rumor, its wildfire spread by the runners delivering passes from the main office, fanning the flames—a new girl in school and you ought to see her—whole classrooms inquisitive—their fascination displacing the Pythagorean Theorem, Iambic Pentameter.” Because this is a sports book, a passing interest in basketball is probably required to get the most out of Stevie’s arc. The author knows the game and is skilled at capturing its drama on paper, teasing out plays into meaningful encounters. This is not a work of high drama, but it contains that potent combination of forces—friends, family, love, childhood passions, and new ideas—that summon to mind the transitional years of adolescence.
A charming, inquisitive sports tale.