Review: Winger

Winger by Andrew Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent look into the mind of an adolescent boy in all his sexually charged, self-doubting glory. Ryan Dean is endearing and aggravating at the same time. The Annie plot-line is predictable but sprinkled with good banter. The conflict involving Joey builds subtly for the second half of the book while Smith does some superb distraction with JP. West’s eventual self-actualization is a bit far-fetched for a 14 year-old but the fallout from the climax hits home. Learned a bit about rugby and how little guys and girls really differ emotionally. Can’t wait to get my hands on Standoff.

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Review: Press Play

Press Play
Press Play by Eric Devine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hazing is a real thing and as much as I didn’t want to believe it happened when I was warned of it in college, it is something of which all teachers and parents should be aware. Devine’s novel throws into harsh light the realities of hazing and bullying as well as the culture that protects and promotes such behavior. Greg is fighting an uphill battle with his weight and the bullying he must endure. It doesn’t get any easier when he tries to change himself as well as battle the jock royalty in his school. Devine tackles several difficult issues in this book with a directness that doesn’t attempt to soften the brutality of their affects on teens. Competitive parenting strategies, body-shaming, sport as religion, hierarchy of extracurricular interests (sport over film or band or drama), and multiple types of peer pressure that may not be at the forefront of such conversations are just some of the many reasons to read this book and look for anything else Devine writes.

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When Has Bullying Gone Too Far?

TITLE: Leverage

AUTHOR: Joshua C. Cohen

LENGTH: 304 pages

SUMMARY: (taken from Booklist Review) Sports novels don’t hit much harder than this. Sophomore Danny may be a rising star on the gymnastics team, but that figures little in his daily life, where his small size makes him a target for the school’s ruling class—the hormone-pumped, college-scouted stars of the football team. A minor grudge escalates until horrific revenge is taken upon one of Danny’s teammates. Coming to the rescue, however, is Kurt, a behemoth new fullback whose scarred face and stuttering speech hint at a past that puts him at odds with his teammates.

REVIEW: This is an excellently written account of the tense undercurrent between jocks’sports and wimps’sports. Every high school student knows this hierarchy exists and most adults (parents or school personnel) know it too, whether they’d admit it or not.  I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrators do a fantastic job. Told in dual narrative style between Danny, a star gymnast, and Kurt, a recent addition to the Knights’ football team, this book doesn’t pull any punches. The bullies in this book are terrifying.  Danny and his teammates spend their days in the hallways (and sometimes in class) looking over their shoulders. Not only are the football players out to put the gymnasts in their place, but the parents and coaches are also complicit in the bullying going on at Oregrove High. Cohen does a thorough job of delving into the mental structures of bullies and their victims. It’s a horrifying look into how this type of bullying creates a culture of silence. The victims feel that they can’t speak out because it’s not just the bullies against them – it’s the entire community.

Danny’s mental struggle and desire to just make it all go away wars with his intrinsic morality. Kurt’s past experiences inform his sense of morality as well and the author masterfully captures Kurt’s struggle to protect others from the demons of his past while trying to create a new future for himself. A word of caution: the scenes of physical bullying are extreme. So much so that it was difficult to imagine they could be real contrary to news reports I’ve read of real-life events that mirror what happens to Danny and his teammates. I even had to take breaks after some of the more pivotal scenes.  I would not offer this as a read to anyone under age 15 due to the graphic nature of these scenes. But overall, I give this book a THUMBS UP! It is a powerful read – one that will leave readers stunned and reexamining even the littlest jabs between students knowing without a shadow of a doubt that sticks and stones do break bones but words’ injuries are the most difficult to heal.