With good speed and good hands, wide receiver Brock Ripley should be a natural for the varsity team, but he shies away from physical contact. He also avoids provoking the star quarterback, Hunter Gates, well known for his bullying tactics. Hunter struggles on the field, causing him to act even more like the bully he is, lashing out at not only Brock but also Brock’s friend, the quiet and smart Richie Fang. Brock wants to stand up for Fang, but he is younger, smaller, and doesn’t want to cause problems. But when the bullying goes too far, will Brock be able to face his fears and prove to himself that he is brave enough?
Trust Your Gut
Brock is a good kid, and a good athlete, and he's struggling with some difficult things in his life. His father has a progressive neuromuscular disorder, which might explain why he is drawn to star quarterback, Hunter Gates. Hunter is a huge jerk, but his father is always by his side, throwing him passes in the park and on the sidelines at every game. Brock occasionally plays with them at the park, and it is Mr. Gates who encourages Brock to try out for the football team. Brock does pretty well, but he doesn't want to get hit. He feels like a coward in some other parts of his life as well. He's decent friends with new kid Richie Fong, but doesn't always show his support for Richie. Richie's family is from China, his mother is dying of cancer, and Richie is frequently picked on by Hunter Gates. There are times when Brock could have interfered, but he feels powerless to speak up. When things really heat up, however, will Brock be able to gather his intestinal fortitude and step in when it is most important?
Richie was a heartbreakingly real character. Funny, outspoken, and tremendously talented, he becomes a target for bullying because of the very qualities that make him interesting and vibrant. The friendship between him and Brock is also sadly realistic; I think that boys in particular are often too caught up in their own misery to seek out the support they need from those closet to them.
As always, Deuker's sports descriptions are excellent, and I appreciated that he had both football and soccer. Few books cover multiseason athletes, and having Richie also have soccer skills that transfer to football was brilliant.
While this is more of a young adult book due to the introspective nature of the story, it is appropriate for younger readers who are looking for a sports story with more depth than typical middle grade sports fare. Hand this one to football players, soccer players, Future City designers, and any reader who has ever contemplated just how far one should go to help a friend.