Deuker, Carl. Swagger.
24 November 2013, Houghton Mifflin BFYR
E-ARC from Netgalley.com
Jonas likes to play basketball, but he doesn't have any great aspirations. He is an average student, and his father does okay working at a sand and gravel company. His coach thinks his game has improved to the point where he might be considered for a "B" university, and sure enough, Coach Richter contacts him and lets Jonas know that if he can meet certain academic requirements during his senior year, he could have a scholarship. At the same time, however, his father is injured at work, and his new job as dispatcher is made redundant by a computer programmer, so the family moves to a new town where the father can manage a restaurant for his brother. Jonas slowly eases into his new neighborhood over the summer, making friends with Levi, who plays basketball but struggles academically. Levi's family is very religious and controlling. When basketball season starts, Jonas tries to keep up with his classes as well as help Levi with his, and ends up asking the new coach, Hartwell, for help. Hartwell helps him cheat, saying it's justified in order to help Jonas get to college. Later, after a tragedy occurs, it turns out that Hartwell is not one of the good guys, and Jonas has to decide between getting the scholarship and doing what is right.
Strengths: Deuker's books are always beautifully written and well thought out, but...WOW. If my synopsis is vague, it's because I don't want to give away too much and lessen the impact of this fantastic book. The best part of this is Jonas' voice-- he's a good kid who struggles, and he is facing some odds, but he still tries to be a good friend and a good person. I like how there are plenty of supportive adults, but some of them are not good people, but they aren't portrayed as completely, unattractively evil-- just so good.
Weaknesses: This is a more mature book because it deals with sexual abuse. That said, I am still buying it for my library because while we know the abuse occurs, it is circumspectly dealt with. From page 219 of the E ARC, this is the only description we get of what goes on: " 'Levi, are you talking about sex? Is it sex things he has you do?' Even though he was deep in the shadows, I could feel him tense. 'It's sickening. I'm sickening.'" From there, Jonas does all the right things and is a supportive friend. There are web sites listed at the back of the book directing students to places where help is available. All well done, but not a book for elementary schools.
Mack, W.C. Double Dribble (Mathlete vs. Athlete #2)
November 5th 2013, Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Russell and Owen are back, but they face a new challenge-- another set of twins, this time identical, have moved to their school and are put on the basketball team without even trying out because they are so good. Mitch and Marcus go out of their way to exploit their twindom-- matching clothes, matching hair cuts, and a close relationship that blocks everyone else. Russell is still struggling to manage his time, and Owen is upset because he is used to being the start of the team. The twins bother his more than they bother Russel, so when Mitch hurts his arm, Owen is glad, even if it means the team doesn't do as well. Russell recruits Marcus to be on his academic quiz bowl team, and starts to get to know him a bit.
Strengths: Enough basketball to confuse me, which my sports readers will like. I especially enjoy the scenes where the boys and their father are watching basketball on television. This is new to Russell, and he tries to keep up in order to bond with his brother and father, but it's hard for him to really care. Having two sets of twins was interesting, and having the new brothers slowly emerge as separate personalities was interesting.
Weaknesses: Owen comes off as a bit of a jerk in this one, but then he is a middle school boy. There's a lot of that going around, but most of them get over it!
The first book in the series was popular, so I'm glad to see another.