Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Football Genius by Tim Green (3 out of 4 stars)--
Special Note: This book features Michael Vick as a positive figure and role model. Mr. Green wrote this book before Michael Vick was convicted of illegal activities and this fact should not be held against the author.

Former NFL player Tim Green clearly knows his football. Every page of his first YA novel, Football Genius, oozes with insider knowledge. Many of us remember the first lesson in Writing 101: “If you’ve never been to Paris, don’t write about the Eiffel Tower.” Nobody wants to read a sports book by someone who has not played the sport; the author played eight seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, and his experience is evident. Green, author of over a dozen adult books, has turned his attention to literature for middlers, and although this first offering is not perfect, it is a fast-paced and enjoyable read.
Twelve-year-old Troy White has a special gift, but no outlet for his talent. He can, after watching a few plays of any football game, predict with complete accuracy the next offensive play. He and his friends Tate and Nathan play on a little league football team together. He would like nothing more than to be the savior to his beloved (but hapless) Atlanta Falcons, not only so he could shut the mouth of his rival, local starting quarterback Jamie Renfro, but also so he could prove that he can stand on his own without the father who left before he was born. When Troy insults Renfro’s skills (his rival’s dad happens to conveniently be the coach), Jamie fires back with the one retort sure to strike a nerve: “‘At least I have a father’” (8). When Troy’s mother lands a job with the Falcons’ public relations department, Troy gets the opportunity to go to the game, but his hubris gets in the way, causing him to make a scene on the sideline:
“‘Coach, I know what they’re going to do!’ Troy yelled, struggling to get free . . . Two security guards in yellow jackets dashed over the yellow lines into the bench area and grabbed Troy under the arms” (45). After Troy gets his mom fired, he begins a mission to help his team, despite all of the obstacles. He enlists the aid of aging defensive star Seth Halloway by demonstrating his talents during a Georgia Tech game on television: “‘Holy crow,’ Seth said, ‘you’re like a football genius . . . Kid, do you know what this means?’” (90). But neither person knew how difficult it would be to get Troy’s message and his gift to the right people, and the nasty Coach Krock, defensive leader and the next in line if the current head coach fails, blocks every attempt to improve the defense. They need to get to the owner, Mr. Langan, to plead their case.
This novel is fun to read and satisfyingly accurate in its portrayal of football terminology and insight. Mr. Green’s straight-ahead style suits this story well. The plot grows thinner and more improbable as the story progresses, and the subplot involving the head coach and his nasty assistant is too reminiscent of movies like Major League and The Natural, but the reader wants Troy to succeed despite his character flaws, and it is easy to perceive Troy’s stubbornness as determination, and his hubris as righteous indignation. Although the minor characters are a little too flat, all of the familiar figures are present: the over-protective mom; the wise elder (granddad); the tough-but-fair executive (Mr. Langan); the over-the-top coach and his bratty son (the Renfros); and the friends (Tate and Nathan) who will do anything to help, even if it means personal danger. The Spy Kids generation probably will not raise as many objections to this formulaic crowd-pleaser; they’ll simply enjoy the ride and cheer at the appropriate spots.


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