Kurt and Danny are on high-school teams vastly different in school status. Danny, slightly built, is on the underfunded gymnastics team, while physically gifted Kurt is the latest addition to the popular football team. Each uses sports to cope with tough personal issues. Kurt's foster care and painful stutter are more visible than Danny's insecurities. A bullying episode inflicted by some football players drives a young man to suicide and links Danny and Kurt in an uneasy secret. This frank portrayal of the darker side of high-stakes school athletics is told in two very distinctive voices. There is little subtlety in the storytelling—the football coach is predictably single-minded, while the gymnastic coach is sensitive and earnest—but the exploitation of young athletes, from accepted steroid use to the way school budgets are manipulated, comes across. The gameÂ sequences are well done, and there is plenty of authentic locker-room talk, some of it racist and homophobic. Kurt and hisÂ struggles are heartbreakingly real,Â and readers willÂ pull for him long after the story ends. (Fiction. 14 & up)
ÂCopyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Cohen's debut offers a timely look at bullying, although coincidences and an over-the-top portrayal of the bullies undercuts the message at times. At Oregrove High, a trio of steroid-fueled football players bullies everyone, including the players in other sports, such as gymnastics. Danny is a high-bar specialist who does his best to stay out of their way, but an escalating war between the two squads draws him and his teammates in; when tragedy strikes, Danny is one of the few who know that the bullies are responsible. Another witness is Kurt, a stuttering abuse survivor and fullback who has just transferred to Oregrove. As the two teens cope with their guilt over their inaction during and after the shocking events, they are forced to confront both the bullies and their own insecurities. The central tragedy is gripping, as is Kurt's heartbreaking past, but the gratuitous thuggery of the bullies and their steroid-pushing coach more often feels like a scene out of Glee than out of real life, and the resolution is pat and unrealistic. Scenes of sexual violence may disturb some, but are appropriate to the plot and well-handled. Ages 14-up. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 9 Up--The rape of a gymnast by three members of his high school's football team is the central event in this disquieting novel of bullying at its most violent. Danny Meehan is a promising gymnast bothered by his small stature and youthful appearance. Kurt Brodsky is a massive, physically talented football player tormented by past abuse he has suffered in the foster-care system and by a pronounced stutter that leads others to believe he is mentally challenged. In alternating chapters, the two boys describe the manner in which the campaign of intimidation orchestrated by the football team's tri-captains leads to an escalating level of violence that culminates in the attack on the smallest and weakest of the gymnasts, a freshman named Ronnie Gunderson. Kurt is not a part of the bullying, which reminds him of the torture he himself endured and that led to the death of a close friend. In fact, Kurt intervenes in the rape, fighting off his teammates in their attack on Ronnie. Danny was hiding in the room where the attack occurred, too fearful to defend his friend. Ronnie subsequently kills himself, but, for reasons of their own, Kurt and Danny are reluctant to openly accuse the attackers. Finally, with the help of a techno-savvy Goth girl, the two boys are able to expose the rapists in a very public way. This powerful novel is thought-provoking and well-written, and it's about as dark and disturbing as YA literature gets.--Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT[Page 170]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.