Friday, November 10, 2017

Guy Friday- Backfield Boys.

Feinstein, John. Backfield Boys.
August 29th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Tom and Jason are fairly happy in their public school in New York City, but they are both phenomenal football players and spend a summer at a football camp. Afterwards, they are offered positions at the prestigious sports prep academy in Virginia. Even though their mothers are less than thrilled about them playing football at all, they are offered scholarships that make the very expensive school seem worth the risk. Right away, things get uncomfortable. The boys expect to room together, but are separated. They are assigned positions that they don't normally play. When they ask about these things, the coaches are very put out and make it clear that they are not to be contradicted. Jason is Jewish and Tom is black, and the boys soon start to pick up on subtle and not-so-subtle incidents of racism in the school. Jason's roommate, a self-proclaimed "good ol' boy" named Billy Bob is from Alabama and does not share these prejudices, but he has spent more time in the South and understands how things work. When the boys realize that there has never been a black quarterback, and roommates are assigned along racial lines, they contact sports writers and start an investigation, especially into the most offensive coach as well as Gatch, the founder of the school, who has alarming ties to people whose track record on race is horrendous. Can the boys come up with concrete proof that things are not being done properly at their school?
Strengths: Feinstein does a great job of writing for older middle grade readers as well as high school ones. I appreciated that he set this in a high school and dealt with serious issues without resorting to bad language or behavior. Tom and Jason are both very appealing characters, and the inclusion of sports reporters is a great example of "writing what you know"! This was reminiscent of Paul Volponi's titles like Black and White or John Ed Bradley's Call Me By My Name, and is a welcome addition to books about football that have some more serious themes.
Weaknesses: Referencing Trump will date this one, and it is immeasurably sad to think that this level of institutionalized racism might still exist in the US, but that's why it's an important book.
What I really think: This is an essential purchase for middle school and high school libraries. Also, I will never live South of the Ohio River. Just won't.

24974996Stone, Nic. Dear Martin.
October 17th 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers

Public Library Copy

Justyce McCallister was raised in a rough neighborhood by a struggling single mother, but now attends the exclusive Braselton Prep and is most likely going to Yale when he graduates. His ex-girlfriend, Melo, calls him one night when she is drunk and needs help getting home, but when he comes to her aid, a police man accuses him of taking advantage of her, roughs him up, and arrests him. With the help of his friend Sarah Jane's mother, who is a lawyer, Justyce is released without being charged, but the incident shakes him up. It also worries Manny, who is also African American, but who has very wealthy parents. The racial prejudice present at their school in Georgia starts to become more and more apparent to the two boys, as some of the football players who are friends with Manny make more and more comments and questionable choices. Manny's cousin ends up shooting and killing the officer who arrested Justyce, and racial tensions are high in the area. Justyce had tried to come to terms with the events in his life by keeping a journal in which he wrote letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, but when a tragedy occurs, even this doesn't help him. Even with his acceptance to Yale, Justyce struggles to figure out where he fits in to society and how he will be able to go forward with his life.
Strengths: My African American students sometimes want to read about life in disadvantaged, urban circumstances, but more often than not complain that they want to read about African American students like themselves-- suburban, middle class, and not involved in gangs. This is a perfect example of what they want. Justyce has experienced more prejudice than Manny, but still have a hard time understanding and dealing with it in a way that my students will understand. The two boys know all the "rules" of being young black men and try to follow them, but are still surprised by how horrible people can be. This was well written, very emotionally charged, and am important read.
Weaknesses: I wish that there hadn't been so much Young Adult content and language in this. Definitely an essential purchase for high school libraries, and a more accessible choice for a class read than The Hate U Give, which our high schools used last year, but I will pass on this title for middle school.
What I really think: How sad is it that our society has not moved beyond these sorts of situations. Again, never, ever, ever living south of the Ohio River. Yes, things like this occur occasionally in Ohio, but I hope that my students never experience anything remotely like this book!


  1. Oh, don't be so hard on us. I've lived in the South all my life and I could have seen the events in the Feinstein book happening 60, 50 or even 30 years ago but no one cares about those things anymore. Our own Cam Newton graduated from Auburn, about as Deep South as you could get, and nobody cared about his skin color. Besides, school athletic departments are under tremendous pressure to win and any coach, athletic director or dean that denied, even subtly, a good athlete a place on a team would not keep his/her position for long. Nor would a prestigious school hold its prestige for long. Any school that had not had a black quarterback would have been suspect twenty years ago. Especially in these days of social media. Any school that attempted anything like this would have its name all over every social media outlet and investigations would occur at once. Maybe I'm naive but I don't think so. Does racial profiling still happen? Definitely. But a school. even a prestigious one, trying that these days? Hard for me to swallow. Besides, the next review said there's devil worship in Ohio! Yeesh!

  2. PS--I may have made an error, even a contradiction. Racial profiling does indeed exist but its in the larger society. It's hard to believe that schools practice it anymore. If they do, they're as rare as devil worshipers in Ohio!

  3. It's also the large bugs, humidity, and Spanish moss, Carl! Even Cincinnati, where I lived for years, is almost too far south. As for devil worshipping in Ohio-- probably in some rural areas! I'm going to stick to my leafy suburban neighborhood with a few Japanese beetles and Rollie pollies.

  4. We don't worry about the large bugs--the snakes eat them all! JK--bugs are indeed a problem and the humidity is intense but if you can survive that, you're rewarded with springs and falls that are spectacular. I don't think I'd like all the snow and intense cold--my mom moved south to escape the Wisconsin winters--so we each enjoy our own particular regions. And thats a good ting. (PS--Spanish moss grows only in the coastal areas and it's very beautiful. Henry Ford tried using it to stuff cars seats in Model T's. It was not a good idea!)