Featured Review: Top Prospect (Paul Volponi)
About This Book:
Travis Gardner lives to play quarterback. He's a standout QB by the middle school, and he's prepared to put everything he has into the game. Then Gainesville University's head coach makes Travis a promise: Travis will have a place on the team, and a scholarship to go with it. He just has to get through high school first. As Travis starts ninth grade, he'll have to earn his teammates' trust and dodge opponents aiming to sack the star quarterback. But his biggest challenge might be staying focused in the face of sudden fame. Because now the pressure is on, and Travis has to prove himself with every pass.
*Review Contributed By Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*
The Long Game
After Travis' older brother Carter is signed with the Gainesville Gators football team, Travis is thrilled. He also feels a little abandoned, so when he has the opportunity to show off his own football skills to the coach, he does. This results in him being given a verbal offer of his own scholarship in five years, which pushes him to become a more public figure and improve his game. This doesn't make Carter happy, and we hear from his point of view occasionally as well. The boys' father, who lives in California with his new family, rarely makes it to see them, but does talk to them on the phone, rarely with pleasant results. Carter sees first hand what pressure college sports can put on the players, especially when he befriends Alex, who has gotten some perks from local businessmen. This practice comes under investigation even as Travis is starting to benefit from it. Over the course of two years, Travis starts to see that while being a college player in the national spotlight can be attractive, there are many down sides as well.
This is a solidly middle grade book with more mature themes that is an excellent choice for readers who have worked through Matt Christopher, Tim Green, Mike Lupica and Rich Wallace and want a sports book with a little more substance. I loved the close family relationships, the aspirations for college, the football (which was in depth enough that I didn't understand some of it-- sad, but that's my rule of thumb for "good" when it comes to sports. Am I lost at points? Awesome!), and the edgy, suspicious practices of the college football coach that are uncovered.
Watching Travis go from a middle school student with great promise but a naive view of the world to a high school varsity player who has seen too much grief and corruption is interesting-- most middle grade books don't cover a span of years, so we don't see this much character development. Carter is an interesting character as well, and I was glad to see an overshadowed older sibling portrayed. Supporting characters are also well-developed and sympathetic, but my favorites were some of the villains of the story... who didn't quite believe that they WERE villains.
Recommend this to fans of this author's teen novels Black and White and The Final Four as well as readers who like the combination of sports and real life issues offered by Carl Deuker, Chris Lynch and Chris Crutcher.