This fearless debut novel explores racism, injustice, and self-expression through the story of a promising Black football star in Louisiana. The system is rigged. For guys like Russell Boudreaux, football is the only way out of their small town. As the team’s varsity tight end, Rus has a singular goal: to get a scholarship and play on the national stage. But when his best friend is unfairly arrested and kicked off the team, Rus faces an impossible choice: speak up or live in fear. “Please rise for the national anthem.” Desperate for change, Rus kneels during the national anthem. In one instant, he falls from local stardom and becomes a target for hatred. But he’s not alone. With the help of his best friend and an unlikely ally, Rus will fight for his dreams, and for justice.
Russell is often torn between his own safety and speaking out. This is painfully realistic. The books starts with the scene with his car breaking down. He doesn't want to worry that he is just a few blocks into Westmond, but he does. When he is approached by the other player, he wants to talk back, but knows this is dangerous. Russell often feels like a coward for not speaking up, but realizes that saying something could turn into a life and death incident. Especially poignant is the scene at the protest when Gabby is being injured by a police officer, but one of the protest organizers pushes Russell away, knowing that he could be killed for trying to protect Gabby.
While fictional titles Feinstein's Backfield Boys (2017) and Bradley's Call Me By My Name (2014) as well as the nonfiction books Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City (2018) by Hoose and Strong Inside (2016) by Maraniss all combine sports with discussions of racism, all of the authors are white men. It's increasingly important to make sure that the stories of Black characters are told by Black authors, so it's good to see Buford enter the young adult field with this stirring account of racism set against the background of sports in the south.