Winning a competitive eating contest is David’s only hope of avoiding being grounded for life after he does something stupid with his mother’s credit card.
Already an avid eater and a fan of the “sport,” David Miller, 14, figures that he’s really going to have to up his game after accidently spending $2,000 in an online auction for what is billed as the very hot-dog half that cost pro eater Jooky Garafalo last year’s Nathan’s Famous contest. Fortunately, local pizzeria Pigorino’s is sponsoring a competition at the Iowa State Fair with a $5,000 first prize. Unfortunately, David will have to beat out not only a roster of gifted amateurs to make and win the finals, but also a pair of professionals—notably the renowned but unscrupulous El Gurgitator. As much gourmet as gourmand, David not only vividly chronicles awe-inspiring gustatory feats as he gears up and passes through qualifiers, but describes food with unseemly intensity: “Disks of pepperoni shimmer and glisten on a sea of molten mozzarella.” Even better, though, is the easy, natural way he interacts with Mal, a younger brother whose neurological disability (the term “autistic” is banned from family discourse) transforms but does not conceal a rich internal life. Other subplots, such as a developing relationship between David’s longtime friends Hayden (who is evidently white) and Korean-American Cyn, further enrich a tale in which his own tests and his loving, white family’s determined quest to discover what they dub “Mal’s Rules” both result in thrilling, hard-won triumphs.
Winning views of a family pulling together, of young people stumbling into adolescence, and of an entertaining if controversial pursuit, “reverse-eating events” and all. (Fiction. 12-14)