Plenty of play-by-play peppers this inside look at America's top game, with a focus on early recruitment of elite high school athletes.

Way early. Following in older brother Carter's football trail brings Travis to the attention of a top coach at nearby Gainesville University. When Travis is in the seventh grade, Carter commits to Gainesville—and the coach is impressed enough with Travis to offer the 13-year-old white boy a scholarship before he starts eighth grade. Suddenly, the off-field games of media and popularity are coming full tilt at both brothers. Travis' visions of glory, his sudden need to be smart in an ESPN interview, and his struggles dealing with injury and loss are all described in Travis' narration, supplemented by Carter's quick commentary between chapters and occasional insertions of interviews and media reports. That naïve Travis lacks the emotional maturity to complement the strength of his game is not surprising. An absent father who has a new family in California complicates the home scene, while the mother who has been their support and guide surprisingly never quite comes into focus. A subplot about Carter's black teammate and roommate, Alex, relies on stereotype to illustrate the underside of college ball. With an astute sense of his audience, Volponi in the end returns readers to the love of the game that should be the heart of any athlete who wants to succeed in playing at the highest level.

Absorbing if flawed. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4677-9433-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Although it may not satisfy as a novel, its characters will no doubt resonate with teen readers who share their struggles...


A new group of students join Mr. Ward’s poetry class in the companion novel to Bronx Masquerade (2003).

A group of black, white, Asian, and Latinx high school students in Mr. Ward’s class practice the art of poetry in preparation for a weekly open-mike reading each Friday. Through poetry, the students navigate their concerns and fears about themselves, their families, and their futures. As they prepare for the class’s culminating event—a poetry slam competition—the students bond and grow more comfortable revealing themselves through their poems. Each student’s story is introduced and explored in rotating first-person chapters. There’s brown (not black) Puerto Rican Darrian, an aspiring journalist who lost his mother to cancer; 16-year-old Jenesis, a blue-eyed, blonde, black girl who worries what will happen when she ages out of the foster-care system at 18; Chinese-American Li, who hides her love of poetry from her parents; African-American Marcel, whose father wasn’t the same when he returned home from prison; and several others. Unfortunately, the characters’ personal struggles remain largely static throughout the novel, and there’s no overarching plot or compelling conflict among them. Much of the dialogue feels forced and doesn’t ring true as the voices of present-day teens; aside from a few poignant moments, the students’ poetry tends to be heavy-handed.

Although it may not satisfy as a novel, its characters will no doubt resonate with teen readers who share their struggles and aspirations. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-24688-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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A provocative shot but far from a slam-dunk.


After a promising young talent is shot dead on a neighborhood basketball court, the game takes on new meaning for a community in mourning.

Middle schooler Tony “Tone” Washington lost a close friend when a police officer opened fire on honor student Dante Jones, cutting the nationally ranked basketball player’s life short. The working-class Milwaukee neighborhood Tone and his family live in is no stranger to injustice, so in the aftermath, a rally, protest, and candlelight vigil are organized in tragically routine fashion. All the while, Tone’s focus is on making an elite local AAU basketball team, partially in commemoration of his late friend but also because—despite recognizing some of the disconcerting aspects of so much of your future being determined as a young teen—the sport takes up a significant space in the lives and dreams of the boys in his neighborhood. But the overlap of hoop dreams and police brutality ultimately makes for some uncomfortable and uneven narrative beats. As Tone narrates his interactions with Dante’s younger brother, Terry, the latter boy is obviously and justifiably angry and hurt because of his very personal loss, making Tone’s dogged focus on basketball strike a hollow note. Despite some compelling reflections on community and emotional health, sports clichés abound on the way to the national championship, and the impact of Dante’s death only three months earlier is not fully explored. Most characters are assumed Black.

A provocative shot but far from a slam-dunk. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-306959-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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