by Cohen, Joshua C.

High school sophomore Danny excels at gymnastics but is bullied, like the rest of the gymnasts, by members of the football team, until an emotionally and physically scarred new student joins the football team and forms an unlikely friendship with Danny.

Joshua Cohen is a former collegiate gymnast who now lives with his wife in New York City.

*Starred Review* Sports novels don't hit much harder than this. Sophomore Danny may be a rising star on the gymnastics team, but that figures little in his daily life, where his small size makes him a target for the school's ruling class-the hormone-pumped, college-scouted stars of the football team. A minor grudge escalates until horrific revenge is taken upon one of Danny's teammates. Coming to the rescue, however, is Kurt, a behemoth new fullback whose scarred face and stuttering speech hint at a past that puts him at odds with his teammates. Told from the well-drawn alternating perspectives of Danny and Kurt, this is not a book about steroids; they exist, and they exacerbate the strife, but even Kurt admits that they have some short-term benefits. Rather, this is a novel about being trapped inside a web of expectations, where one's family, community, team, and future rest on the assumed perpetuation of the established social order. Sports fans will love Cohen's style: direct, goal oriented, and filled with sensory detail. Characters and subplots are overly abundant yet add a deepness rarely found in comparable books. Drugs, rape, language, and violence make this book serious business, but those with experience will tell you that sports is serious business, too. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

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 game sequences are well done, and there is plenty of authentic locker-room talk, some of it racist and homophobic. Kurt and his struggles are heartbreakingly real, and readers will pull for him long after the story ends. (Fiction. 14 & up)


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