________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005


In the Paint. (South Side Sports).

Jeff Rud.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
163 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-337-0.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Dana Eagles-Daley.

*** /4


In the Paint by Jeff Rud is a recommended novel for pre-teens, approximately 9-11 years old. The novel is appealing essentially because it addresses important issues in a believable way while still presenting a fun and action-packed story about basketball. The main character is Matthew Hill, a fanatical basketball player and talented boy who is entering grade seven. As Matt learns to deal with the more intense academic and social scene of South Side Middle School, he also faces difficult dilemmas, such as missing his brother, remaining loyal to his friends, being committed to his basketball team, and bullying involving an older student named Grant Jackson. That Matt is able to accomplish many of his goals and deal with his problems throughout the novel makes the story exciting. However, there are costs, and the ending is somewhat surprising, leaving the story overall that much more believable.

     Matt's single mother is consistently supportive while Matt's brother Mark calls home once a week from his distant oil-rig job, supporting Matt when he can. Matt Hill is a true friend who celebrates the victories of his friends and who faces difficult tasks because he knows that his friends are important to him. Indeed, one of the most endearing elements of the book is the close comradery of the central group of boys. Even when Matt is unable to play during important times in the season, he is sincerely thrilled to see his friends happy and successful on the court. This social group is one which is perhaps one of the more distinguishing Canadian aspects of the book as the four boys are ethnically diverse with varying family structures. Matt is athletically-driven, often struggles academically, and lives with his single mother. Amar is a tall and naturally athletic boy of Indian descent with a close professional two-parent family. Jake is Caucasian, lives with his parents running a resort and is always living for the moment. Finally, there is Phil whose Chinese family runs a local variety store. Phil is hard-working and committed, characteristics which make up for his less natural athletic talent. It is Phil's family variety store which provides the backdrop for much of the conflict in the story. As the place where the four boys spent so much time together watching sports on tv while Phil takes his turn running the store, Matt realizes that Phil's family is also important to him. He discovers that standing up for your extended family is sometimes worth facing personal loss. Also, Matt learns that the people who love him will forgive him if he truly apologizes, showing Matt that the truth is always worth telling. Matt learns about loyalty to his basketball team. As the conflict with Jackson worsens, Matt is taunted and bullied.

Jackson had already picked up the ball, and dribbled it back to the outside. Without checking to see whether Matt was ready, he fired up a perimeter shot. The ball bounced once on the front of the hoop before dropping through.

"That's game," Jackson said, flashing his annoyingly cocky grin. "See you boys later."

     Despite being constantly provoked, Matt learns to temper his reactions, and he discovers firsthand that sometimes walking away from a fight is the most difficult and brave action to take. Through all of this, one of the constant themes is sportsmanship as the team members learn to put aside their differences in order to support each other on the court. In contrast, Jackson Grant bullies and even physically attacks his teammates, loses his spot on the basketball team, loses respect from many of his peers and ultimately, and lets down his team.

     Matt matures as a result of a difficult situation in which he becomes involved. The relationship between Matt and Phil is tested in this situation as Matt unwittingly becomes part of a group of boys that spray paint racist comments on the back of Phil's family store. As in any real situation of this nature, the right course of action is obvious to Matt, but he finds it difficult to deal with because there are complicating factors. Matt was initially excited to be invited to hang out with this group of older boys. Admitting his involvement in the incident is something that Matt is naturally nervous about since it could jeopardize his friendship with Phil. As he figures out how to deal with the problem, Matt understands the importance of doing the right thing. Later on in the story, Jackson shows up drunk at Phil's store. Thus, Matt and his friends deal with the issues of alcohol abuse and the appropriate use of physical force. Clearly, these are issues which young people face in their lives. Without being obvious and dogmatic, author Jeff Rud shows that it is possible to handle problems without resorting to violence. More importantly, the author demonstrates that, by communicating with family and friends, people of any age can deal with their problems in the best way.

     Essentially, In the Paint is about a boy and his friends entering middle school and hoping to play on the basketball team. The pace is fast, and Rud keeps the court scenes exciting as he uses real terminology that avid basketball fans will find interesting, but he keeps it simple enough so less knowledgeable basketball fans can still imagine the action. As they face real-life dilemmas, the boys learn that they can rely on each other and on their families to cope with issues such as alcohol, fighting, racism, loyalty and bullying. In the Paint deals with all of the issues in a way that even reluctant readers will find intriguing.


Dana Eagles-Daley is an Intermediate Special Education Teacher in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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