Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Muckers: A Book Review

(From Goodreads)  Former ESPN sportscaster Sandra Neil Wallace (wife to Knopf author Rich Wallace) makes her young adult novel debut with a historical fiction story that is equal parts Hoosiers and October Sky. Felix O'Sullivan's world is crumbling around him: the mine that employs most of town is on the brink of closing, threatening to shutter the entire town. And Felix, or Red, after his fire-colored hair, will be one of 24 students in the final graduating class of his local high school. But Red's got his own burdens to bear: his older brother, Bobby, died in the war, and he's been struggling to follow in his footsteps ever since. That means assuming Bobby's old position as quarterback, and leading the last-ever Muckers team to the championship. Maybe then his angry, broken-hearted father will acknowledge him, and they'll be able to put Bobby's death behind them. 

But the only way for the hardscrabble Muckers team to win State is to go undefeated, and tackle their biggest rival, Phoenix United, which would be something of a miracle. Luckily, miracles can happen all the time on the field. Fans of Friday Night Lights and Tim Tharp's Knights of the Hill Country will take to this enthralling story of a town rallying together to turn a tragedy into a triumph.

My thoughts
When I was asked to do review this book, I immediately, said “yes.” The story of the book could be played out in any one of the small towns or villages here in my Ohio Valley so I figured the story would hit close to home.

My own little valley, back in the day, was a fairly large industrial area based on the numerous steel mills that lined either side of the Ohio River. Business was booming, towns were growing, businesses moving in and then slowly, the reverse with the mills all closed. Now the valley is a shell of what it once was and will likely never been fully revitalized Football has always been an important part of the lives of people here. The boys of fall, as they are touted, enjoy large support, not only from the high school students, but also the community as a whole. When attending a game, one can see many faces in the stands, all putting more hope and faith than should be allowed into a game that has remained one of the few constants in my area.

Sandra Neil Wallace perfectly captures the small town life, hopes and feelings in her debut young adult novel. The town in which the books is set is unpretentious, the people hurting, not only because of the copper mine closure but also from dealing with the economics of a war and racial ideologies. The main character, Red, tells the story of his life in this small town and the pressures of dealing with not only being a teenager, but stepping into the shadow left by his deceased older brother, lost to WWII. This first person account takes the reader thought a journey that they won’t soon forget and make them feel emotions not often evoked in a young adult novel. The story is woven together, not only with football but with the very essence of life itself. Yes, the football games capture the deep intensity and emotion of the actual football games themselves, but this book is about so much more than football. It’s about heart and soul and above all, survival. Wallace does an amazing job at getting to the core of small town spirit. 

At no point did I feel as I was reading a young adult novel and while this novel is fiction, it’s rooted in a true story and Wallace completed extensive interviews and research. Her efforts definitely pay off and this book is the wonderful result. If you enjoy young adult novels with a lot of substance and depth, definitely give this one a read. And even, if you don't, I recommend trying it, you may be pleasantly surprised. 

Disclaimer: I was provided this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours but all thoughts and opinions are my own.