________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Personal Best. (Sports Stories, No. 81).

Sylvia Gunnery.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2005.
110 pp., pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-896-2 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-897-0 (cl.).

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Lizanne Eastwood.

*** /4



Jay had a plan. He couldn’t change the fact that he was thirteen, almost fourteen, and very likely the youngest player at basketball camp. He couldn’t change the fact that, even at five-seven, he was below the average height. He couldn’t change the fact that he was on Chad’s Tornadoes, waiting for a bad weather report. But, there was something he might possibly change. If he ran laps every morning before anyone else was up, he might build up enough stamina and speed so that he could at least keep up with the rest of the guys or, with a lot of luck, be chosen to play in the weekend tournament.


Personal Best is the sequel to Sylvia Gunnery’s Out of Bounds, both books being about the trials of youth and the sport of basketball. Jay Hirtle is 13 and leaving home for the first time to spend a week at a basketball camp at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. The opening chapter gave enough details about the first book in the series that I wanted to read it, but I was not left with the feeling that I was at a loss to figure out the characters and setting in the second book. The language used throughout the book is typical of young Canadian teenagers, with references being made to cool cellphones, ones that ring with the theme from Hockey Night in Canada, and to slang typical of kids in the recommended age group.

     This is a great summer story, full of promise. Although feeling twinges of sadness and fear about leaving his family for a week, the thought of playing basketball, learning new moves on the court and hanging out with like-minded kids is very exciting for Jay. The author does foreshadow Jay’s early return from camp, and so the reader knows something exciting, perhaps devastating, is going to happen. This is a coming of age story without references to sex or drugs.

     Jay travels to basketball camp with his friend, Mike, and Mike’s big brother, Chad. Chad is going to be one of the coaches-in-training, and it doesn’t take long for Jay to figure out that Chad is a jerk, or is at least acting like one. Chad’s reckless and dangerous driving on the way to the university is an indication of his upcoming bad behaviour at the camp, both as a coach and as a big brother to Mike. Chad’s all night partying and drinking binges give Jay a lot to think about in terms of growing up and being a role model to younger, more impressionable kids. When Jay gets to the basketball camp, his excitement is tempered by the fact that he is obviously the youngest and the shortest boy there. He decides to overcome these obstacles by doing some extra training on the running field. An enigmatic boy named Martin offers to be his running coach. As Martin brings out the best in all his teammates, Jay finds Martin to be the role model he had expected Chad would be.

     Much of the book describes the moves and games the boys play on the basketball court. Although the action is fast-paced, I felt the basketball terminology would only be of interest to fans of the sport. I was more interested in watching Jay mature throughout the book. The final chapter of the book describes the tragedy we have been expecting since page one. Jay is truly tested and experiences his own “personal best” as he remains level headed in an emergency. His quick thinking and fast reflexes make him a hero. The ending is both tidy and satisfying.


Lizanne Eastwood is a Family Literacy coordinator, a casual library employee and a homeschooling parent of two active teenagers in Grand Forks, BC.

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

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