The real cost of war
Mike has a lot on his plate. He does well academically, but he also has to work a lot to help out his mother, Ever since his father was killed in Afghanistan, life has been difficult. His mother is too afraid to even let him play football, and the atmosphere in their run down house is tense. When Mike receives a letter which his father wrote before he died, and which promises more letters to come, he is glad to get to know his father better, but also stressed by all of the old wounds the letters reopens. He takes the challenges his father makes-- going out for football, asking out Isma, and going to a party. This puts Mike more and more at odds with his mother, and he even finds difficulties with members of the football team over Isma, whose parents came from Afghanistan. Ultimately, Mike needs to decide who he wants to be, whether or not he decides to follow his parents' advice.
The best part of this book is the framing of personal growth within the arenas of football and romance. This makes it a book that works for both older middle school students as well as high school. Mike's struggle with dealing with his father's death is done very realistically; I thought it was a particularly good touch to have the younger sister claim that she didn't really even remember her father. The hardships that Mike had-- riding his bike, not having a computer, having to work and worry about leaks in the roof of the house-- were not overdone and added a lot of depth to his character. The details about the war in Afghanistan were good as well, especially the local feeling about Isma and her family.