In this new football novel, a nerdy superhero and a clueless sports star demonstrate that all the play-by-play that really matters is mostly off the field.
The actual game of football almost disappears in this look at the good vs. evil among sports coaches, parents, teammates, and so on. Under his father’s tutelage, Brett, better known as Stick, has been dedicated to football since he was very young, mostly loving the game and energized by his skill, but the thrill may be fading. In part due to the unending pressure and in part due to the bullying his teammates inflict on Preston, a nonathletic, comic-book–loving classmate, Stick begins to see his father, coach, and teammates in a new light. Stick decides to quit the team just as a UCLA scholarship is in the offing. He’s also failing at math, which drives Stick to seek out Preston for tutoring, a relationship that gives him a greater understanding of Preston’s quiet strengths. A superhero element gradually emerges, and with Preston’s guidance, Stick begins to parse the difference between motivations and results—maybe he can find a way to play football without violating his moral code. Readers may find some supporting characters’ development and growth difficult to believe, but they will nevertheless respond to Stick’s awakening to the wider world and the complexity of navigating it.
Engaging and uplifting. (Fiction. 12-16)