CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 31. . . .April 17, 2015
Red Zone Rivals. (Sports Stories).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
131 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0714-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0715-2 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0716-9 (ebook).
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Georgette Nairn.
“I’m watching you, man,” he said, spitting his words in Walker’s face. “If you ever drop the ball on a field goal, I’ll complain to Coach. It we ever miss an extra point because of you, I’ll complain to Coach. I’ll be your worst nightmare if you screw up even once.”
Quinn didn’t know what to do. Emma would have told him to step in, but he couldn’t. He knew he shouldn’t agree with Luke or question Coach’s decision to let Walker play. But he couldn’t see how a guy with just one good leg could help the team.
Red Zone Rivals follows the story of Quinn Brown, a boy who, at first glance, has it all. He is the starting quarterback of his football team, has a family who adores him, and he’s dating Emma, captain of the cheerleading team. What more could a guy ask for? Readers are plunged into Quinn’s world in the midst of a game. Howling pulls readers into the action, opening with the final tense minutes of a game, one that Quinn and his team win thanks to a little pep talk from their coach. But things are about to unravel. Readers soon realize that Quinn’s worries and anxiety can get in the way of his playing, just like they get in the way of his math grades. If he wasn’t already under enough pressure, a new coach enters the scene, one with a new philosophy that may just send Quinn to the bench.
Not being a sports fan myself, I was apprehensive about this book, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Howling’s unveiling of the story is gripping, and I found myself unable to put the book down for the last 60 pages. I didn’t even mind the play by plays that occurred during some of the games.
Howling is careful to make his lead character complex while keeping his journey believable. Readers start with the impression that Quinn is talented but also a bit self-centered and oblivious to others around him. Howling succeeds, however, in shifting readers’ viewpoint with enough subtly that they aren’t aware that it is happening. As his layers are pulled back, readers start to realize that Quinn is full of uncertainty. He is struggling to figure out what the right thing is to do in many situations and is more unaware of, than uncaring about, how he treats those around him. Quinn is a great model of how many kids his age feel as they are fumbling through their teenage years.
The supporting characters of Emma, Quinn’s girlfriend, and Walker, a new kid at school who is immediately teased upon arrival for being different, are nicely fleshed out too. I found myself rooting for Emma when she breaks up with Quinn for not standing up for the new kid. Walker, initially viewed as a kid with a limp, is well-developed, and, as his backstory is slowly revealed, he becomes an inspiration not just to Quinn, but to the audience as well. The only character that seemed a bit stereotypical was Luke, the second string quarterback, who is vying for Quinn’s position and only sees Walker’s limp, even when he proves himself. Luke comes off as being a “typical” bully, but this is minor, seeing as its Quinn’s story and not his.
Lorimer rated the book at a mid to late grade three, reading level. I would agree with the reading level; however, the content is better suited for those in grades 5 or older, and the simplicity of the text is well masked by the interesting story. Despite the simplicity of the words, Howling uses words to create descriptive imagery. Red Zone Rivals will appeal to both boys and girls, and I would recommend it for any class library.
Georgette Nairn is a teacher at Harold Hatcher School in Winnipeg, MB.
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