CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 19 . . . . May 27, 2005
So begins Juice, a new hi-lo book written by Eric Walters for the “Orca Soundings” series. Set in an unspecified town that could stand for any small town in the United States or Canada, Juice tells the story of a high school football team that is tempted by the devil of the sports world: steroids. The school’s football coach of 27 years decides to retire, and consequently a flashy new coach comes in with some big ideas, including expensive new equipment, a strength trainer, and the use of muscle building supplements.
While most members of the team are seduced by Coach Barnes’s ideas with visions of winning the Division One Championship, gaining college scholarships and possibly playing professional football, it is one teenage boy, “Michael the Moose,” who is most convinced that he needs the “juice” in order to reach his goal. Although he is only a junior player on the team, Michael has recently been named one of the team’s captains, and for him, football really is everything. An only child with a single mother, Michael struggles to keep a 70 percent average in his classes so he can continue to play ball. Upon meeting Tony, the strength trainer and personal assistant to Coach Barnes, Michael is easily persuaded to do whatever it takes to become stronger, and he begins taking steroids. He is aware of some of the possible side effects of taking the “juice,” including hair loss, skin problems, kidney failure and cancer, but Tony assures him that these side effects have only occurred in lab rats who were pumped full of the stuff; “most of those studies are just garbage.”
After just a short time taking the “juice,” Michael starts to notice skin problems and mood swings or “roid rage,” which results in his being suspended from work and arguing with his mother, then putting his fist through a wall at home, an incident that occurred years before with Michael’s father who has since left Michael and his mother. Very shortly after this incident, the old coach returns, bringing news that Coach Barnes and his assistant Tony are the subjects of a police investigation surrounding the illegal possession, use and sale of steroids. Michael will not be charged for using steroids, and the team will return to their original ways.
Juice’s ending is somewhat problematic; loose ends are too easily resolved, and the closure of the larger issues seems rushed. Granted, hi-lo books are known as high interest books that rarely surpass 100 pages, but the reader feels as if threads of the story have been missed or hurried through – for example, what will happen to Coach Barnes and his assistant? Will Michael suffer any health problems due to his taking of steroids? For a book in which plot plays an important role, it seems to strange that these details would be omitted. That being said, Juice is a quick read that would certainly be of interest to any athletic high school boy involved in team sports and who may have had to deal with similar issues. High school sports, as I recall from my own school, can be viciously competitive, and it is very plausible that some teens would consider taking drugs to help give themselves that extra edge.
Even with its simplistic ending, Juice does bring up the important point that winning and losing are not everything; rather, it is the choices we make in life that will have a more lasting effect. Each and every one of us is bound to make mistakes, such as Michael did when he made the decision to take steroids. However, his individual strength is demonstrated not through his ability to lift weights or tackle opponents, but in his decision to come forward and admit he took steroids. Walters has become well-known for realistically depicting teenage boys in his stories, including the two other Orca Soundings hi-lo books, Grind and Overdrive, and Juice’s Michael is no exception: he is a teenage boy who has made some bad choices, but ultimately he is able to stand up, admit failure, and continue to provide leadership for his peers on the football team.
Jen Waters is a new MLIS graduate from the University of British Columbia who will soon be the Teen Services Librarian at Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.