CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 15. . . .December 11, 2009
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2009.
262 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Family secrets-Juvenile fiction.
Review by Erin Walker.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
The ground swung up quickly and slammed him, and the pass bounced away. He lay there for a moment, hyperventilating and spitting out turf. The next thing he saw was the fifty-something-year-old, beaming and pulling him back to his feet.
"Way to miss everything."
"You overthrew me a little," Marcus said, defending himself.
The man plucked the ball off the grass. "You couldn't catch a cold, Mac."
"It's Marcus," he amended. "And you are... ?"
The old guy scowled. "Your worst nightmare if you don't quit pulling my chain."
Marcus flushed. "What should I call you?"
"Try Charlie, stupid. Heads!" He punted the ball straight up in the air.
Pop, Gordon Korman's latest novel for teens, explores the highs and lows of football through the eyes of 16-year-old Marcus Jordan. Marcus, the new kid in town, aspires to play quarterback, but the football team at his new high school is less than welcoming. The team had a perfect season last year, and they're not about to let a newbie into their starting lineup.
Resigned to the bench but determined to impress, Marcus begins training extra hard in a nearby park. It's there he meets Charlie, an athletic and charismatic older guy who is unbelievably good at football and has a bone-shattering tackle technique. The two develop a unique friendship, with Charlie becoming Marcus' informal coach, helping him hone his skills and overcome his fear of the tackle.
But there's something odd about Charlie. He's extremely forgetful and behaves childishly for a man of his age. Marcus discovers that his mysterious friend is actually Charlie Popovich, famous retired NFL linebacker and father of Troy Popovich, lead quarterback of his high school football team. When Marcus confronts Troy about his famous father, Troy warns Marcus to stay away from him. Eventually, Marcus discovers that Charlie is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease as a result of the multiple concussions he sustained over his football career. It's a secret the Popovich family is desperate to keep. Marcus, however, is willing to go to great lengths to do what he thinks is best for Charlie in spite of what the family wishes.
While more serious than Korman's usual work, the sad and tense moments in Pop are tempered by the rivetting football action and scenes coloured with the author's trademark humour. Marcus and the other major characters are well developed, and the conflicts encountered are very real. Teens will easily identify with Marcus Jordan and his adolescent struggles. An entertaining and deeply affecting read, Pop will draw in even non-football fans.
Erin Walker is a Masters of Library and Information Studies candidate at the University of Western Ontario in London, ON.
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