Wish fulfillment is the order of the day in Lupica’s latest.
Charlie “The Brain” Gaines has an uncanny knack with fantasy-football
leagues. Though he lacks the skill to be a standout player on the field, when
it comes to his favorite game, no one is a better strategist. No one. Including
the professionals. So when Charlie’s best friend and football buddy,
Anna, introduces him to her grandfather Joe Warren, Charlie can’t
help sharing a bit of insight. You see, Joe Warren happens to own the
local football team, the L.A. Bulldogs, and the Bulldogs happen to have
a crummy record, and that means they happen to crave advice, even if it
comes from a mediocre middle school football player. Lupica plays the “what if”
game to posit the notion of a brilliant football mind trapped inside a youthful
body. The ploy falls decidedly short, as Charlie’s level of football
understanding and insight render him something of a savant. Charlie is far more
at ease with football jargon than most middle-grade readers could hope to be.
Expert-level dissection of football mixes with the melodrama of a fatherless boy’s growing attachment to a team owner to contrive an uneven pace.
Lacking the intensity of a sustained drive or the urgency of a fourth-and-long play, the story offers more the feeling of trailing an opponent and deciding to sit on the ball until halftime. (Fiction. 10-14)