Pop by Gordon Korman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's tough to be the new kid in town. Marcus Jordan doesn't have anyone to practice football with, so when a middle-aged man appears in the park eager to play, Marcus doesn't ask too many questions. At first. The old guy is GOOD, after all, and he teaches Marcus how to tackle and be tackled without losing focus--a skill which comes in handy after he makes the varsity team over the strenuous objections of the star quarterback who sees him as a rival both on and off the field. Eventually, though, Marcus realizes that his new friend Charlie isn't just eccentric. Covering for Charlie's pranks has gotten Marcus in trouble with local law enforcement, and his increasingly erratic behavior strains the bonds of loyalty and sends Marcus on a quest for answers, to the dismay of Charlie's family, who are desperately trying to maintain a facade of normalcy.
Gordon Korman tackles (pardon the pun) the serious and timely subject of the long-term effects of concussions and sports-related injuries in this teen novel, and he does it brilliantly. What better way than a good story to communicate the idea of consequences and mortality to teenage boys who have always believed themselves to be immortal and invincible? I'm not what you'd call a sports fan (yes, that's the sound of my family laughing hysterically), but I loved this book. It's not preachy, doesn't try to scare kids out of playing, it just subtly raises awareness while weaving together humor and tragedy.
For readers' advisors: character and story doorways. A couple of mild kissing scenes and virtually no bad language.
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