I recently read two great YA novels in which the main characters were boys. They were fast-paced and included just enough football and soccer competition to keep it interesting to non-fans as well. These finds are important for anyone who has tried to motivate adolescent male reluctant readers.
Both books also incorporate rich writing with dynamic characterization, imagery, suspense, and a number of relevant themes.
The first was Tangerine by Edward Bloor. The book opens with Paul’s family moving from bustling Houston to sleepy Tangerine, Florida due to his father’s new job. Paul is a rising sixth grader who lives in the shadow of his “superstar” big brother, Eric. Paul has mysterious flashbacks that involve his brother trying to kill him, but he can’t clarify the memory. He senses that Eric has something to do with Paul’s terrible eyesight that cause him to wear “Coke bottle glasses” and have an IEP. Paul’s sport is soccer and he’s very talented; but his parents can’t muster the same enthusiasm for their younger son’s interest. This book invites discussions about the environment as well. Developers have eliminated much of Tangerine’s old orchards and a sink hole at the middle school plays an important role in the plot. Middle grade teachers will find a wealth of plot development to implement when reading this excellent book.
The second was Pop by Gordon Korman. Marcus is also the new kid in town. He’s a high school student and the cliques have long been formed. He is also trying to fit in with a small town’s championship-winning football team, where the starting lineup is firmly in place. While getting in some preseason work, Marcus meets a mysterious middle-age man in the park. The man just appears and gives Marcus some excellent pointers which help him get the coaches’ attention during practice. There’s some romance in this one that middle schoolers may or may not appreciate. Marcus also gets into some trouble with the law. Who is the mysterious man? Will Marcus ever be accepted by the team? This one also offers a plethora of themes and lesson jump starts.