If you read 200 YA novels back-to-back, you’re bound to notice that certain themes and storylines recur: first love, family secrets, grief, new friends, fish out of water, coming-of-age. One of the special joys in serving as a Cybils panelist is finding the more unusual similarities that appear in the year’s crop of nominees.
For instance, in the books I’ve read so far, I’ve noticed:
More than anything else, though, 2011 appears to be the Year of the YA Sports Novel. So far, I’ve read about boxing, cross country, track and field, rock climbing, dance, mountain biking, soccer, baseball, gymnastics and football, football, football. I’m not talking about books in which the protagonist (or the antagonist) simply participates in a sport—I’m talking about books in which the characters live and breathe a sport. In which the sport is front-and-center; in which there are detailed descriptions of the hows and whys of their devotion to it; in which it isn’t necessarily about a winning season, but about celebrating physicality itself.
Like Crutcher, Cohen tells a story about unlikely allies. Danny, a verbally adept gymnast, and Kurt, a quiet football player—both extremely gifted athletes—slowly earn each others’ trust and ultimately, stand together against corruption and, well, pure evil.
Like Crutcher, Cohen writes about how harnessing your own body can help you harness your own mind. When Danny and Kurt focus on the physical, they are (usually) able to leave the rest of the world behind, and they both find that hitting personal goals is far more fulfilling than a simple win for the school team.
Like Crutcher, Cohen ends the book on a note that’s too tidy for believability’s sake, though most readers won’t care. But, while the book ends on a high note, it’s clear that the aftermath will be extremely, extremely messy.
Like Crutcher, Cohen deals with some serious, serious issues, and does so without pulling any punches. Racism, sexism, steroid use, authorities who misuse their power, sexual assault, child abuse...you name it, it’s probably in here. (And aspects of it seem almost prescient, given the recent Penn State scandal.)
Finally, like Crutcher, Cohen might want to brace himself for book challenges: In addition to loads of profanity (always a favorite target of book challengers, regardless of how it mirrors the reality of the high school hallway), there’s a horrifically visceral assault scene that’s bound to be read aloud (out of context, no doubt) and clucked over at a school board meeting somewhere.
Seriously, Crutcher fans: You’re going to love it.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.