Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Final Season

Green, Tim. Final Season
September 14th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ben Redd enjoys playing football with his 6th grade friends, especially Tuna, even though sometimes the way they act worries him. When the group has a sleepover and plan to go egging houses, his older brother Rich gives him an out-- Ben can text him and tell his friends that his brother needs him as an excuse for being out in their dad's car. Ben does, but his other brother, Raymond, is the one who picks him up. Ben's parents aren't home from an appointment with a specialist, and when they return, there is reason to worry. Ben's dad, John, played for the Atlanta Braves and is now a lawyer, and has just been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), likely not helped by his years of playing football and enduring head trauma. He is having trouble walking, and his speech is often slurred, but he would still like to coach Ben's football team, with the help of Raymond and Rich. Ben's mother doesn't like the idea at all, and thinks that it's far too great of a risk, but John feels that 6th grade football is not as violent as the NFL, and wants to have one final season of football with his sons. There are other challenges as well. Thea, whose older brothers are accomplished college players, wants to join the team. She has the skills to do so, so John welcomes her, but her teammates are less thrilled. At one point, the boys hatch a plan to cut off one of Thea's braids, and Ben is trying to tell Woody not to do this when his phone is confiscated at dinner. Repercussions of the act are swift; the boys are to treat Thea as a complete teammate, and Woody's parents make him shave his head to show how sorry he is. After that, the team can focus on Thea's playing... except that Ben starts to want to hang out with Thea in a more romantic (for 6th graders) way. John doesn't want anyone to know about his condition, because he doesn't want them to feel sorry for him, but eventually agrees to an interview on 10 Minutes with Steve Kroft, where he talks about the fact that he still feels very blessed for the life that he has had. His condition deteriorates, and when he has trouble breathing and needs to be intubated, he loses his ability to speak. He still wants to coach, and is brought to the sidelines in a wheelchair, with a keyboard he can control with his eyes. Ben has a difficult game at the end of the season, but he knows that this is the last chance his father will get to coach him, and plays despite several injuries. 
Strengths: Like Makechnie's Ten Thousand Tries, we get to experience what life is like for a middle school age sports player who must deal with a parent with ALS. Unlike that book, we get to read about the experience from someone who is living through this condition. Green approaches the topic in a realistic but unflinching way. There is garbled speech, frequent small injuries, and a slow slide into more serious debilitations. What there is not is a sense of self pity. John and his family hope for the best, take comfort in their religion and in their family unit, and try to make the most of each moment while they can. There are times when it is difficult to do this, and moments where it is all too much, but they are brief. Ben's determination to do his best on the field in order to make his father proud is strong, but this doesn't make playing any easier. The inclusion of Thea is great, because it offers us a 2021 snapshot of the welcome that girls get in football, right along with Lupica's Triple Threat. I loved that Ben questions why his sisters didn't play football, and that John explains that lacrosse was their sport, or he would have been happy for them to play. If you've never read a "football book" because you don't like sports, or don't think that sports books are as lyrical or as much of a "heart print" book as others, pick this up. Everyone should pick this one up. You won't need tissues, because you will be able to wipe away your few stoic tears with your sleeve.
Weaknesses: No one should be playing football anymore. No one. 
What I really think: This is a powerful novel, and a fantastic testament to Mr. Green's perseverance, upbeat attitude, love for his family, and his contributions to both the sport and the literature of football. We all have to go out, and some of us have to go out in painful ways, but Mr. Green has shown, with tremendous grace, how to go out swinging. 
 Ms. Yingling

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