Swagger Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-09-04 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 0 user ratings

" This frickin' book. A basketball playing teen is forced to move to a new city due to his father's unemployment, and his new coach has a dark secret. While I don't want to rag on a rare but real problem, the melodramatic nature of this presentation gives it an "After School Special" sheen that is fairly laughable on a whole. Skip this one. " said.

" Jonas' life is messed up-- his father lost his job, his college scholarship for basketball is in jeopardy, and now he is moving to Seattle. Levi walks into life... the sweetest, kindest, biggest kid he's ever met. They enjoy playing basketball, camping, and all things boys do... until Levi's disposition changes drastically. What is going on with him in the greatest basketball season of all time? " said.

" Jonas Dolan doesn't have a lot of post-high-school prospects until a canny basketball coach helps him improve his game--and his grades. For the first time, Jonas considers going to college. But then the family moves from California to Seattle, and all the friends, coaches and teachers supporting Jonas are too far away to help much.

In Seattle, Jonas finds a new friend. Levi is also a talented basketball player, but halfway through the season, Jonas discovers why Levi seems so withdrawn and depressed, especially when Coach Hartwell is nearby. Although Levi begs his friend to keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong, Jonas knows that he will need to do something.

But, what?

Excellent characters facing a truly horrible situation. We even read/made sense of / didn't die during the basketball sequences. (Basketball lovers will love the basketball parts. Us, not so much.) Overall, a strong story, recommended for readers, especially sports fans.
" said.

"The story: When Jonas moves to Seattle his senior year, he's afraid his chances for a basketball scholarship are going to fizzle. But his new team turns out to sizzle, not fizzle--and even a state championship could be within reach. But something creepy...something downright going on with one of Levi's new friends, and he's left with a gut-wrenching choice: out the bad guy and lose his chance for the scholarship, or just keep quiet, keep playing, and keep his chance to go to college?

June Cleaver’s ratings: Language PG-13; Nudity G; Sexual Content PG-13; Violence PG; Substance Abuse PG-13; Magic & the Occult G; GLBT Content G; Adult Themes R (sexual predation and suicide); overall rating PG-13.

Liz's comments: One thing I really like about Carl Deuker is that he never settles for the cheap-and-cheesy feel-good ending. In his books (as in real life) things don't always turn out the way you expect, and sometimes even decent people get screwed. If you run explosives for terrorists, someone or something around you is going to get blown up. If you take steroids, you may eventually kick the habit, but there's no denying that you're still always thinking about it, no matter how much it messed up your life. Here, Jonas wants to do what's right--but he finds out that sometimes life paints you into a corner and you end up losing no matter which way you choose. For me, the book's only downside was that I thought there was too much basketball. I know, I know: Deuker writes sports novels. Okay. I also grant that kids who are sports fanatics will like the descriptions. But I (admittedly not a big sports fan) just felt that a trip to every game in the season was a bit much--one would have been plenty. More just felt like it was getting in the way of the real story, which was what was going on off the court. Just saying.

Annotation with spoilers: During Jonas's junior year, his coach suggests that he might be good enough to get a basketball scholarship to a Division 2 school. They send out game DVDs, and guess what? Monitor College in far away Vermont is interested. He'll need to bring up his grades, and do well next season, and a deal can be in the bag.

But his father has lost his job, and the next thing he knows, Jonas's family is moving from CA to Seattle. Who knows what kind of team he'll find up there? Luckily for him, right away he meets Levi Rawdon, a big kid who lives just down the street. Turns out that Levi plays on the high school team, and the two of them start playing summer basketball to keep their skills sharpened. In fact, when they show up at the local rec center, not only do they connect with other kids on their school's team (and a few from opposing teams)but they also meet a man, Ryan Hartwell, who previously played college ball, and who's willing to give them some great tips.

The back story on Levi: he has four younger sisters who adore him, and a father who's a fundamentalist Christian minister. He's not allowed to do a lot of things, like listen to suggestive music or go to R-rated movies, and he spends a lot of time helping his dad fix up their new place of worship in a local strip mall. The other kids on the team call him "Double-D" (short form Dumb-Dumb) since failing grades kept him off the team during a critical time last year, and essentially cost them a shot at the title. Jonas can tell that the name-calling bugs Levi, but the bigger kid, a gentle soul, manages to shrug it off.

Right before school starts, Hartwell invites the Harding High boys to a party at his apartment. He hands them a couple of beers each and slips a raunchy DVD into the player. Immediately, Levi bows out, and Jonas goes with him because Levi is his only real friend in the group.

When school starts the following week, all of a sudden Ryan Hartwell has just been hired as the new assistant basketball coach at school, and the first thing he does is ask Levi and Jonas to keep quiet about the beer and nasty movies at his place. Although he hadn't been their coach at the time, he says, it could still get him into trouble now. Better just to be safe and keep it quiet. They agree.

Hartwell goes out of his way to make friends with the boys. Although Jonas is trying really hard to keep his grades up, it appears that chemistry is going to be his downfall. But amazingly, Hartwell shows him a little-used teacher's lounge with a computer that's not password protected, and bam: Jonas is able to get into the chemistry teacher's files and download his quizzes and tests for the whole year. The kid is smart enough to use the info to get solid Bs on the tests, so no one suspects, and it seems like his grades--and therefore his scholarship--are in the bag. Hartwell is helping Levi, too, by personally tutoring him after school so failing grades won't keep him from playing this year.

The team starts out the season in December a little cold, because old coach Knecht just wants them to do the same old drills, and play the same old "slow" basketball that focuses on basic techniques. Jonas and the other boys are impatient for quick-break basketball (even though their skills are improving under Knecht's tutelage) and Jonas is especially unhappy because the other kid playing his position on the team was there last year and Knecht is in the habit of playing him, to the extent that Jonas feels he's not being given a fair chance to play and show his game. If he doesn't get more on-court time, his stats will stink and Monitor College will no longer be interested in him.

Everything changes when Coach Hartwell accidentally runs into Knecht as he's charging down the court at practice one day. Knecht is thrown into the air and, when he lands, the old man has suffered a broken hip. He's on his way to surgery and rehab, and Hartwell is now acting head coach. Things are great! The team is on fire, and they start an impressive string of wins right before they break for Christmas.

Levi invites Jonas to accompany him and Coach Hartwell on a camping trip to the mountains over the break. (Earlier, Levi and Jonas had already done an awesome overnight hike to the same place, and Jonas found out that, while Levi wasn't a great student, he's an amazing artist and truly a sensitive soul). Jonas can't make the trip, but Levi and Hartwell decide to go anyway.

When school gets back in, the great basketball goes on, but something's wrong with Levi. He's cold and distant, and won't tell Jonas what's the matter. When he plays basketball, it's like he's on fire with rage. Weeks later, Jonas finally gets the other boy to tell him what the problem is: that Ryan Hartwell had asked him to do "bad things" while they were on the campout, and again since. Levi, guileless soul that he is, doesn't agree that Hartwell is the evil one: he feels sick and polluted, and is horrified when Jonas suggests going to admin to rat Hartwell out. Levi is living in dread that his fundamentalist father will find out, knowing that the man will be furious with him, and knowing there's nothing he could do to convince his father that Levi wasn't somehow culpable too.

In the meantime, the team is on their way to the state tournament, which they actually win, and Hartwell is named state high school coach of the year for his work with the come-from-nowhere team. As the team is celebrating at the local pizza place, Levi steals Jonas's car and takes it up into the mountains, evidently looking to nature for a little peace from the guilt that's tormenting him. Jonas comes out several hours later and finds his car gone, but doesn't tell his parents or call the cops till the next morning because he doesn't want to get Levi in trouble. But by then, the trouble has come to him: Levi went up into the mountains where, without a coat or shelter, he's found dead from hypothermia. Everyone thinks it was an accident because they don't have reason to suspect suicide, but Jonas just can't leave it alone. At school on Monday, when Hartwell says something comforting to him about Levi, he blurts out that he knows the truth, and that he feels Levi's death is Hartwell's fault.

The coach moves preemptively--leaving their conversation and heading directly to the principal's office, where he reports Jonas for cheating. Jonas, who's come a separate way to the office to report the coach to the principal, gets there second. There's a confrontation as Hartwell leaves the office, but the principal listens fairly to Jonas's story (and the kid comes clean about everything, including the party with alcohol and his own cheating) and then calls the cops and turns the investigation over to them.

At the end, Jonas has lost his scholarship, but other members of the team finally come out and corroborate his story about the (four!) parties at Hartwell's apartment featuring alcohol and porn. Although they aren't able to prove Jonas's claims that Hartwell sexually abused Levi, the charge of "procuring and distributing alcohol to minors" is enough to earn Hartwell a short jail sentence and will ensure that he never works with high school kids again. As the book closes, Jonas (with the help of old coach Kniecht) is getting ready to put in his application to the local community college, where he figures he'll study and play basketball for a couple of years until his grades are good enough to find him a spot at another Division 2 school. He's determined to do it, both for himself, and because he feels like he owes it to Jonas.

This book gives an unapologetic look at the fallout from sexual abuse, and supplies online resources for kids who might be suffering from it. You have to admire Deuker for being willing to tackle such a difficult subject, and for doing it without trying to pretty things up.
" said.

" I think this a really good book and the moral of the story can be related to by many readers, plus its a good motivational book for those looking to get better at basketball. I love how the dialogue fits the story perfectly and the ending is sad but really good. " said.

" There are such good messages in this book. Like most Deuker novels, the sports details are extensive. For me, they were a little much; however, I could see sports fans loving them. A much better recommendation than Legend. " said.

"The only thing that kept me from giving this five stars is that when they go to the coach's house for a beer party (where he is grooming these kids) the main character "notices" that Elton John is playing. Really?? The only pop cultural reference in the whole book and it adds a shade of gay? Pedophilia is its own box of bananas and it shouldn't be colored differently. It just jarred me. Other than that, this is a grippy tale of ethics with a nice splash of basketball. If you are going to make a kid read a book, they won't hate you for making them read this one." said.

"This story is haunting; the what-ifs illuminated by the convincingly earnest voice given to the novel's narrator Jonas. Jonas has the flaws of a teenager while still managing to step into the shoes of a 'hero'. It is Jonas' battle with this epithet that cause the what-ifs to echo in the reader's mind long after finishing this novel.

Deuker's skills as a storyteller are at work as he explores challenging themes and issues without resorting to being morally trite. As in life, the truth is never easy nor does it result in fairy-tale endings - responsibility and consequence are inevitably linked. These messages are frank and provide readers with the psychological realism of being a 'hero'.

However, where this novel knocks the wind out of the reader is with the character of Levi. Read it for Deuker's depiction of the social outsider whose voice is stifled. Every school has its Levis - will you be his or her Jonas?
" said.

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