Whether a girl might want to play football is the thread that holds together this dual narrative of a sports novel and a budding romance, told in alternating voices by the two sweethearts.
Eighth-grader Tessa is a competitive cross-country runner, showing impressive speed and assured of a place on that team when she heads to high school next fall. At 14, she is attracted to Caleb, a boy she regularly plays flag football with. Pickup games here and there slowly develop into a sweet first courtship. Over the summer, Caleb endures dangerous but routine hazing as he casually follows in his older brother's footsteps, while Tessa is pulled into her mother's campaign for mayor. Partly in rebellion and partly for attention, Tessa announces in a press interview that she plans to go out for football. Caleb's chapters show him wrestling with his ideas about his own future as well as his growing interest in Tessa. Outwardly she seems committed to football, but uncertainty comes through in her chapters as she encounters the brutal physicality of football camp. Both narratives are straightforward and readable. Tessa is shown as white on the cover; Caleb also reads as white. While the narrative twice states that more than 1,600 girls actually play football in high school, it is oddly ambiguous about Tessa's future in the sport.
Tessa’s ferocious competitiveness is appealing, though her ambivalence about football gives the lie to the determined-looking girl on the cover. (Fiction. 11-15)