What makes an average American high school suddenly become violent?
As Joe Brickman heads into the fall of his senior year, he's looking forward to the soccer season, when he will captain the Lawndale team. And surely this will be the year when he and his neighbor Kristine stop teasing each other and begin dating. But scary, unpredictable things start happening at Lawndale High. It's hard to tell what touches off the storm. Is it the arrival of Antonio Silva, a.k.a. the Phenom, a Brazilian soccer star who transforms the Lawndale Braves into a contender, and in doing so clashes with football players? Is it the shake-up of the social order in the school, when the Phenom starts dating Kris, and soccer becomes the "in" sport? Is it the brutal humiliation of Joe's best friend, Ed "the Mouse" McBean, and is Ed planning on taking some dark revenge on the entire school? Perhaps it's all of these new twists, and something older. As violence and danger escalate and school officials clamp down with zero tolerance, Joe finds himself searching for the courage to break free from the forces that threaten to take him down with the home of the Braves.
In his powerful and timely new novel, David Klass dramatizes the many ways in which past violence returns to haunt the present.
Klass (You Don't Know Me) throws a lot at his protagonist, Joe, a suburban New Jersey high school senior who is captain of his school's losing soccer team, the Braves. While Joe is sympathetic, the unclear trajectory of the narrative and predictable outcomes will likely discourage readers. "The Phenom," a Brazilian soccer player, transfers in, becomes the star of Joe's team and wins over Kris, Joe's longtime crush, and Joe is understandably upset. After the Phenom injures a football player in a fight, tensions spark between the "hard guys," football players mostly bused in from Bankside, and the soccer team (and eventually between Bankside and local kids), but Joe plays by teen rules, keeping silent to authorities even after bullies beat up his best friend, Ed the Mouse. Heightened security at school and the next attack on the Mouse, compounded by a falling out with Kris, add to Joe's mounting stress. In the end, he must decide whether to fight hard guy Slade, a decision presented as pivotal to shaping his future. The story unfolds very slowly, and the Phenom's role in the book is surprisingly marginal; it's easy to lose track of him occasionally amid Joe's other crises. Some of the plotting, like Joe's unlikely interview for an educational boating expedition, steers this story off course, and even the Phenom's dark secret seems lackluster. Ages 12-up.