During a weekend tae kwon do tourna-
ment, a well-liked coach is fatally injured
under circumstances that seem suspicious to
17-year-old Matt Foley and his teammates.
When police and school officials deem it a
tragic accident, the four look into the coach’s
death, connecting it to a classmate’s recent
suicide. Matt is a sympathetic, low-key hero
who must deal with a variety of burdens
and dangerous individuals. He bonds with
teammate Graciana, an aspiring investiga-
tive reporter who is a little wiser than he is.
Calling to mind a grittier Hardy Boys story,
these teen sleuths uncover a real-life fight
club and have to learn krav maga to defend
themselves against the man who killed their
coach. Although the resolution may strike
readers as far-fetched, Stevens’ portrait of
Matt, Graciana, and their town is a compel-
ling one, full of convincingly real dangers.
Losers Take All.
By David Klass.
Oct. 2015. 320p. Farrar, $17.99 (9780374301361).
Klass (Grandmaster, 2014) tackles jock
culture and social-media hysteria in this
smart, often hilarious novel. Jack Logan is
the youngest brother in a family of talented football players, and he might actually
enjoy sports if he were not constantly pressured into taking one up. When the beloved
principal of sports-powerhouse Freemont
High—aka “Muscles High”—dies, he is
replaced by the school’s football coach,
Mr. Muhldinger, whose first act as principal is to require that all seniors participate
in a school sport. In response, Jack and his
friends establish a third-rate soccer team to
fulfill the requirement with as little effort as
possible. Not surprisingly, they stink. But
thanks to social media, the Losers become a
touchstone for every kid who has ever suffered at the hands of jocks or maniacal PE
coaches. Their insurrection unleashes levels
of revolution they had not imagined. With
exciting sporting sequences and subversive
twists and turns, this unpredictable book
turns the concept of winning on its head. A
hugely entertaining score for the underdogs.
By Mike Lupica.
Nov. 2015. 272p. Philomel, $17.99 (9780399256066).
Lupica is the go-to guy for quick-reading,
enjoyable sports fiction, and his latest adheres to his formula of mixing expertly
described play-by-play action—in this case,
basketball—with interesting personal stories. Broaching serious topics, yet assuredly
entertaining, this story of a scrappy white
kid, Jayden, growing up in a black neighborhood is a kind of Blind Side in reverse.
Hiding the fact he’s barely subsisting after
his mom dies and her boyfriend abandons
him, he’s tripped up by his need for some
new kicks. When he’s caught shoplifting, he
winds up being taken in by an older, affluent
African American couple who are incredibly
long on patience, as Jayden acts out his anger
and hurt before pulling himself together to
lead his new school’s b-ball team to victory
and a chance to play in Duke University’s
Cameron Indoor Stadium. Friends old and
new, a crush, and the comparison of his old
digs to his new home life flesh out the story. Eager fans will find this a slam-dunk. A
must-purchase. —Karen Cruze
By David Trifunov.
Sept. 2015. 112p. Lorimer, paper, $9.95
(9781459408548). Gr. 4–6.
This tale of a young Canadian immigrant
who gets a longed for but unexpected chance
to join a local team will score an easy goal with
younger or less expert readers mad for hockey.
Money is so tight since Paul’s divorced dad
went back to Trinidad that the equipment
and registration costs required to join the Saskatoon Wildcats seem out of reach—until a
wave of flu, injuries, and mono leave the team
desperately shorthanded just when a league
championship seems within reach. Soon Paul
is recruited, introduced to team play, and out
on the ice. Aside from a few comments about
Paul’s skin color, a player who suffers a concussion, and one hostile team member brought
around by the end, the tale’s drama comes
from the brisk practices and game action,
which is thick with references to boot hockey,
rep hockey, zones, checks, penalty kills, and
other lingo, as well as general strategy. Paul’s
team doesn’t quite come out on top—but he
does, and he gets plenty of support from peers
and adults along the way. —John Peters
By Tim Green.
Sept. 2015. 336p. Harper, $16.99 (9780062293794).
Inheriting a professional football team
seems like a dream come true for seventh-grader Ryan Zinna until it becomes a
nightmarish competition. When the father
Ryan never knew leaves the Dallas Cowboys
to him in his will, Ryan thinks it will change
everything—his social status at school and
his position as an undersized bench warmer
on the seventh-grade football team. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t, and even his “kid owner”
position seems to be in jeopardy, as his father’s wife contests the will in favor of her
son, Ryan’s half brother and a football powerhouse at a rival school. Ryan struggles to
balance old friendships with his new feelings
of self-importance and to make a difference
on his team as a quarterback running a new
kind of offense. It all comes down to winning the game, but what constitutes a win?
Minor characters are drawn with a broad
brush, but Ryan is believably naive and daz-