Mr. Touchdown

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12+
ISBN
0595359000
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A story about desegregation set in 1965
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4.0
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Set in 1965, Mr. Touchdown is a story about segregation and integration, but also about friendship and courage. Eddie Russell, a star football player (the Mr. Touchdown of the story) and his very shy sister Lakeesha have been asked (i.e. told by their parents and civil rights activists) that they and a couple of other black students are to help desegregate the local all-white high school.

This, of course, comes with a lot of hardships for Eddie and the others. For one, Eddie goes from being the star player on his old team to sitting on the bench (at least in the beginning), even though hes a far better player than anyone else. And Lakeesha, always very timid, seems to withdraw even more. Some of the other girls deal with it a little better, but none of them are comfortable by any means and most of the white students dont make it easy for them at all.

One exception is Nancy, even though most of her friends and family dont agree with her live and let live views. Theres also a player or two on the football team that learn to respect Eddie not just for his playing, but also for his character. But tragedy is bound to happen, and when it does it strikes at the heart of all of them.

What happens next is up to the character of the main players in the story. Is it time to give up? Did they accomplish anything? Has the price they have paid been too great?

This is a raw, believable story with strongly developed characters. While a slim volume and a quick read, theres a lot going on here. Some language appropriate to the time period is included (the n-word, for one), so keep that in mind. Honestly, if it wasnt there, the story wouldnt read as true.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and up (though, again, some of the younger readers or their parents might be bothered by the language making it a good learning opportunity and something to discuss). This is a well-written book about a touchy topic and would also work well in a classroom setting.
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Thoughtful and important; civil rights through the prism of peer pressure.
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Reader reviewed by Susan Marya Baronoff

Star athlete Eddie, his sister, Lakeesha, and two other Negro students, hand-picked to enter an all-white high school, are swept into the very heart of the civil rights movement in Memphis, 1965.


Chosen to integrate Forrest High by the NAACP and his father -- we follow high school junior, Eddie Russell, as he encounters the viciousness of certain white students the coldness of others and grapples with the sheer unfairness of leaving his friends and teammates to come to this hostile and dangerous environment. But we also follow Eddie into his own heart, as he struggles to, in his fathers words: &look into the soul of your enemies and find in them something to love.

The richness of this wonderful book, however, doesnt arise simply from its depiction of Eddie and the other black students as they enter a strange new world; we also experience that world as old and familiar, through our other narrator -- popular, white, Forrest High cheerleader, Nancy Martin.

Nancy is smart and confident and just beginning to notice a few teeny, tiny fractures on the fault lines between her and her best friends. Her dreams are changing expanding catapulting her to New York and Paris, while theirs are still centered around getting married and settling down. But when it comes to the dreaded integration, Nancy hates the idea just as much as they do. At first, anyway. Because pretty soon, she cant ignore the indignities and humiliations meted out to Eddie and the others. And when the attacks become physical& Thats got to be more wrong than integration& Doesnt it?

Its in the interplay of these two characters solitary, stoical Eddie and impulsive, inquisitive Nancy, that the book becomes bigger and deeper and compellingly human.

Mr. Touchdown is a terrific read. Using vibrantly descriptive language, Lyda Phillips creates a living world of shop class and gym teachers, pep rallies and pompoms, and pulls us right into it. Middle-school students and even their older brothers and sisters will enjoy the breezy dialogue, fast-moving plot, and genuinely shocking twists and turns. Rooting her story of radical social change in the familiar routines of high school, the author gives us a book that never abandons its characters, and it succeeds as both social commentary and adolescent rite-of-passage.

Its also a warm and big-hearted book that honors each of its central characters, without robbing them of their flaws and rough spots. It celebrates the unimaginable courage of Eddie and, by extension, all the boys and girls who made history as they dragged an entire nation into becoming better than it was. And it also acknowledges the decency and grit of the Nancy Martins who witnessed that history, first-hand. And played their own small role in it. And grew up to write it so the rest of us would know what
it was like.
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