Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Rivals and Where We Used to Roam

Greenwald, Tommy. Rivals
March 23rd 2021 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Walthorne Souths Panther and the Walthorne North Cougars are bitter rivals, a conflict which is heightened due to the economic disparities in the schools. Alfie is a sports reporter for South, and works with Mr. Rashad, the media advisor, to run a radio show as well as a blog. She interviews Carter and Janeece about the basketball teams, but it is only after she makes comments about a player on the North team, Clay who injured after being pressured to play, that she gets a lot of attention. Austin is the captain of the North team and the son of a ball player. He's under a lot of pressure to do well, and even get private instruction on how to improve his game from Coach Cashen, who also supervises a local travel team. Carter's family struggles, and when his father loses work as a house painter after an incident involving breakage of a pricey statue that may have happened when his father was drinking on the job, Carter hopes to get onto the travel team so that one day he can get a college scholarship. Told in texts, snippets of radio interviews, and posts on chat boards, Rivals shows many facets of how sports teams don't always revolve around just the sports, and how adults sometimes favor players for reasons that have nothing to do with the game. In addition to the problems behind Clay's injury, Alfie's reporting also uncovers a girls' basketball player who is living out of district, and leads to the resignation of a coach after an ill-considered remark. How will the two teams, as well as their players, continue their seasons with all of the controversies swirling around?
Strengths: Great on-court action, plenty 
Weaknesses: While younger readers will enjoy reading the chat boards and text messages, when I see text that is not in a standard format, it wants to discount it. Those parts of the book do propel the story forward, and I had to go back and actually read them! Also, as an adult, I would have liked to see the dad's drinking dealt with a bit more effectively. 
What I really think: Game Changer is hugely popular in my library, and I'm sure Rivals will be as well. While I'm not personally a fan of the format, I'm going to buy two copies, and pick up another copy of Game Changer while it is still available in hard cover. Greenwald writes compelling sports fiction with serious social messages, but I would love to see him combine his talents to write a humorous sports book with a main character like Charlie Joe Jackson.


Bishop, Jenn. Where We Used to Roam
March 23rd 2021 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Emma lives in a suburb of Boston with her parents, a meteorologist and a running store owner, and her older brother Austin, a football star. Her long time best friend, Becca, is very bookish, and as sixth grade starts, the two are having a hard time finding common ground. They both want to join clubs, but Becca wants to do Battle of the Books and Forensics, neither of which sound at all appealing to Emma. She would rather do art club, since one of her hobbies is making shadow boxes. When she finally breaks with Becca and goes to art club, she has a good time, and even makes new friends. Kennedy and Lucy are a bit quirky, but lots of fun, and seem to understand her more than Becca does. While the school year has gotten off to an uneasy but decent start for Emma, it's been disastrous for her brother. Austin is injured in a football game, requires surgery, and has a hard time coping with both the pain and the end of his sports career. At a camping trip at the end of the school year, Emma lets a secret about Becca slip, and the two aren't speaking. When Austin needs to go into rehab, Emma's parents decide to send her out to Montana, to stay with a college friend of the mother's, while they deal with Austin's addiction. Emma isn't happy, especially when she finds out that Chris and Delia's daughter is three years older than she is and not interested in all of the fun trips that her mother has planned. Luckily, Emma meets Tyler at the library, and the two hang out together. Emma still feels bad about what she did to Becca, and starts a shadow box for her, hoping to heal their friendship. Tyler has family secrets of his own, and the two spend the summer together trying to figure out the next step. 
Strengths: I really enjoyed Emma's exploration of school clubs, and her decision to break with Becca and join a new club will resonate with many readers. Middle school is a time when almost everyone loses at least one friend. Austin's descent into addiction is realistically portrayed, and I loved that the parents were active and functioning, and even then missed some clues. When they did realize what was going on, they actively worked to get Austin help. Traveling to exotic locales to spend the summer with people one barely knows has roots going back to Cleary's The Luckiest Girl, and is always a popular topic. The fact that Tyler is gay but has been out long enough in his community for it to be an unremarkable part of his personality is appreciated. 
Weaknesses: Emma's problem with Becca didn't seem like that big a deal; I see students who do worse things to friends all the time, unfortunately. It was good to see that Emma felt bad and wanted to repair her relationship, but she was really obsessed with it in a way that seemed uncharacteristic of 6th graders. Certainly within the realm of reality, though, so a small quibble that middle grade readers are unlikely to have.
What I really think: I like each book by Bishop a little better than the last (although my favorite is 14 Hollow Road, which students keep losing and I've had to replace twice!). She deals with a lot of hard issues in a fairly constructive way, and there are certainly a lot of students who have had someone in their families addicted to opioids. I am a little surprised that the book wasn't set in Ohio, since there is such a wide ranging problem in our state, but I will definitely be purchasing this title. 
 Ms. Yingling


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