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by Rich Wallace

Age Range: 12 - 15

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-87803-3
Publisher: Knopf

 This strong debut, set in a small Pennsylvania town where local sports rule, pits a senior wrestler against both a close friend and the prospect of a dead-end, beer-and-factory-work future. Ben and Al have been friendly rivals for years, but as school's end looms, new tension enters their relationship: Al is being groomed for a shot at the state championship; Ben, discovering that he wants something for himself besides the role of second stringer, is coming closer and closer to beating him in practice. Ben also yearns to escape the claustrophobic confines of life in a one-street town, though he realizes that ``it's a pit only the strongest crawl out of.'' He tells his story in a spare way appropriate to his undemonstrative, nonverbal nature, recording fast and furious wrestling action, the steady burn of his own anger and frustration, and brief but telling glimpses of the people around him--especially of his loving but even less demonstrative father, a factory worker and part-time burglar. In the end, Ben gets not what he wants, but what he needs, losing the qualifying match to Al by one point, and falling for Kim Chavez, a beautiful classmate who knows him better than he knows himself. The young characters here, male and female, are all athletes, but not stereotyped jocks, and Wallace limns the pleasures and limitations of small-town culture with a sure hand. (Fiction. 12-15)