A middle school football player grieves his father’s death both on and off the field.
Tommy Gallagher, defensive star “monster back” (a flexible position that can shift between safety and linebacker as necessary to make big plays), is having a phenomenal game when tragedy strikes: his firefighter father doesn’t make it out of a burning building in time. Tommy has a strong support system but struggles to see that he’s bottling up his emotions and then releasing them in unhealthy ways playing. Once he understands this, however, he then starts erring the other way, playing football with too much hesitancy and not enough joy. His path to overcoming grief is not linear, punctuated instead with believable backslides. Meanwhile, his soccer-star younger sister deals in a different way, shutting down completely and even leaving her sport. Uniting, they see reflections of their father in each other. Serviceable writing sometimes veers into cheesy or repetitive territory but is strongest in its depiction of Tommy’s emotional tunnel-vision and—of course—in the football itself, where the analytic intellect and pattern recognition required for reading offenses proves quarterbacks aren’t the only brains on the field. Aside from white, Irish-American Tommy, racial markers are mostly absent, and the characters mostly come from Boston’s largely white Brighton neighborhood (fans of other teams should be warned that Patriots references abound).
Believable pain and recovery against a solid football backdrop. (Fiction. 10-14)