Rivals

Rivals
Age Range
9+
Release Date
March 23, 2021
ISBN
978-1419748271
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From the author of the award-winning Game Changer comes a gripping novel about two student-athletes searching for stardom, a young reporter searching for the truth, and a crosstown basketball rivalry that goes too far

The people of Walthorne love their basketball—and one of the things they love most is the special rivalry between the Walthorne North Middle School Cougars and the Walthorne South Middle School Panthers. As the season begins, two star players are feeling the heat: Austin Chambers, captain of Walthorne North, worries that he’s not good enough to live up to his father’s legacy, while across town, the brilliantly talented Carter Haswell, captain of Walthorne South, is already under pressure to get a scholarship that might ease his family’s financial stress.

While both boys do whatever they can to make sure their team wins, Alfie Jenks, a school sports reporter, discovers that behind-the-scenes scandals are just as much a part of youth sports as on-the-court action. When she blows the story wide open, the whole season is jeopardized.

Editor review

1 review
Class disparity through the lens of sports
Overall rating
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
N/A
The Walthorne Souths Panther and the Walthorne North Cougars are bitter rivals, a conflict which is heightened due to the economic disparities in the schools. Alfie is a sports reporter for South, and works with Mr. Rashad, the media advisor, to run a radio show as well as a blog. She interviews Carter and Janeece about the basketball teams, but it is only after she makes comments about a player on the North team, Clay who injured after being pressured to play, that she gets a lot of attention. Austin is the captain of the North team and the son of a ball player. He's under a lot of pressure to do well, and even get private instruction on how to improve his game from Coach Cashen, who also supervises a local travel team. Carter's family struggles, and when his father loses work as a house painter after an incident involving breakage of a pricey statue that may have happened when his father was drinking on the job, Carter hopes to get onto the travel team so that one day he can get a college scholarship. Told in texts, snippets of radio interviews, and posts on chat boards, Rivals shows many facets of how sports teams don't always revolve around just the sports, and how adults sometimes favor players for reasons that have nothing to do with the game. In addition to the problems behind Clay's injury, Alfie's reporting also uncovers a girls' basketball player who is living out of district, and leads to the resignation of a coach after an ill-considered remark. How will the two teams, as well as their players, continue their seasons with all of the controversies swirling around?
Good Points
Like Greenwald's Game Changes, Rivals shows his connection with and understanding of sports, as well as of how middle grade students react to life events. There's great on-court action, plenty of thought provoking ideas, and a good treatment of some current topics such as class disparity. It's always good to see these topics discussed in ways that young readers can process them; using the lens of sports always helps with focus! Greenwald does a great job at addressing the differences between Carter's family and his teammates. The cover itself is brilliant in that respect; look at the differences in the basketballs!

Younger readers will enjoy reading the chat boards and text messages, since they are very fluent in that type of communication. As an adult, I would have liked to see the dad's drinking dealt with a bit more effectively, but it is handled in an age appropriate way.

Sports books are hugely popular in my library, and Rivals is a good addition to thought provoking sports titles like Harkrader's Airball, Heldring's My Life as an Eighth Grade Benchwarmer, and Robert's Nikki on the Line. Greenwald writes compelling sports fiction with serious social messages, but don't miss his humorous books with main characters like Charlie Joe Jackson.
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