Howling, Eric. Gang Tackle
August 30th 2016 by Orca Book Publishers
Copy provided by publisher at ALA
Jamal is a senior at an economically struggling school in urban Toronto. Football has been cut, so he won't be able to play. Luckily, a local business man, Mr. Fort, offers to provide $20,000 and equipment from his company, Fort Sports. The catch? He wants to coach. The team is glad to be able to reassemble and have great new equipment, but they realize early on that Fort has his own agenda. A sports channel follows their team, and Coach Fort is constantly prattling on about how disadvantaged the players are and how he is saving them from a life of flipping burgers and stocking shelves by helping out the team. Behind the scenes, Fort is ill-equipped to coach, makes racist comments, and is anything but helpful to boys who have other concerns on their minds. Jamal works at a McDonald's while his mother is a clerk at Best Buy, and when their car's brakes need repair, he tries to find a way to get money. Unfortunately, he takes a local gang up on their offer and gets arrested while trying to rob the store at which his mother works. Fort steps in to save him, but the boys on the team decide that playing football is not a pleasant experience when they have to deal with their self-centered coach. They publicly state that they want to "sack the coach", and Fort pulls his support. Trying to find a way to fund the team, Jamal puts his computer programming skills to use and comes up with a football game app. When the news cover it, he manages to sell enough copies to continue the football season.
Strengths: Orca Sports books are consistently good, even if they aren't great. They are set in high schools, which middle school students LOVE, they cover social problems as well as lots of sports details, and they are short and easy to read. The covers (with the exception of my personal favorite, Crack Coach) are simple photo illustrations that age well. The characters are diverse. Why don't I have every single title they have published? I know some librarians have made comments that their students don't read football books, but I cannot keep enough titles on my shelves!
Weaknesses: I wish these were a bit larger. The Canadian paperbacks have especially small margins, so when I buy these in a prebind format, there is very little white space on the page. I'm sure this is a measure to keep costs down, but I would love to see these titles in a nice dust jacketed hard cover.
What I really think: Putting this in the collection immediately and putting it on hold for one of my students who reads three football books a week and has literally run out of books to read. He's had to resort to humorous books that have no sports. He's not pleased, and since he's an 8th grade boy, there's a LOT of eye rolling and sighing when I ask him to try other types of books!