Whitaker, Nathan. Snap Decision (Game Face)
July 1st 2014
Good friends Chase and Tripp both go to Archie F. Carr School, a small school in Florida, where 7th graders are allowed to play on the Varsity football team if they are good enough. When a number of seniors participate in a Senior Skip Day after being told not to, they get their chance. There's a lot going on in their lives-- Chase and his sister Hannah are being raised by a busy single mother, and Tripp's dad is a recruiter for a local university football team. There are various crushes and a friendship with an upperclassman, JB, whose family is very religious. When Tripp sustains a bad head injury during a game, Chase knows he needs to make sure Tripp gets proper medical treatment, even though it makes Tripp angry with him.
Strengths: Since there are never enough football books and this has a great cover, I'll definitely purchase this one. Enough football plays as well as references to teams that this will be popular.
Weaknesses: This did not draw me in as football books usually do, and there is a note from the author at the back explaining that this is his first foray into middle grade fiction. This is certainly a good start, but there were some parts that could have been better.
There need to be MANY more sports books for middle grade readers than fantasy books, so I would not want to dissuade any sports writers from attempting books for this age? I know that there are a few aspiring authors who read this blog, I offer the following (hopefully) constructive criticisms:
1. Many readers of sports books are struggling readers. Not all, but many. This book had a lot of characters, and they weren't well differentiated, which may confuse some readers.
2. The plot doesn't emerge until later in the book. I kept waiting to see what the hook would be, and it appears to have been Tripp's concussion. This needs to happen earlier on.
3. Real people and places are mixed in with the fictional ones. Maybe readers won't care, but there was a band and singer mentioned frequently enough that I had to do an internet search to find out if they were real. Coaches, teams, players (Mo Isom? Apparently a real person.), scientists-- too many things that seemed real enough rather than fictional that it bothered me. But then there was one team-- the Cleveland Rockers-- that seemed made up, since it was football rather than the women's basketball team of a few years back. Perhaps this is a problem of moving from nonfiction to fiction, but it slowed the story down. I also had to look up whether 7th graders are actually allowed to play high school varsity ball, because that seemed wrong to me. Apparently, it can be in smaller divisions with k-12 schools.
3. Don't include math problems in a book. Even if it's about cheating on a math test. It made me stop and wonder what was going on. I put down the book. Not a reaction we want from readers.
4. Religion is okay if it makes sense. I'm not a huge fan of religious diatribe, but in the case of JB and his family, it makes sense. When Chase quotes Job, that seemed out of character.
5. The first paragraph of every chapter is in bold print. Why? I found myself reading these paragraphs more carefully, but they didn't seem to be more explanatory or different from the rest of the chapters.
I do like the notes on concussions at the end; that's good information to include in a book.
Middle grade sports fiction is probably the toughest type of book to write. You have to appeal to the struggling readers and make the story clear cut and action packed, but you have to factor in the higher readers and give them enough to make the story interesting. This is certainly a good try, but I hope that the next book (this seems like it will be a series, given the "Game Face" series title above the title) is put together a bit differently.