CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 20. . . .January 28th, 2010.
Sidelined. (Sports Stories).
Toronto, ON: Lorimer, 2010.
124 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-55277-550-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-551-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55277-552-3 (ebook).
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Beth Maddigan.
***1/2 / 4
"You're really gonna want to hear this," said Marjan playfully.
"Marjan, can you fly?" Vicki said, grabbed a handful of her friend's T-shirt and pushed her toward the stairs.
"Okay!" exclaimed Marjan, laughing. "Okay, okay. I'll tell you! We'll end up in detention again if we keep this up."
Vicki released her friend and they walked down the stairs together.
"So, anyway," said Marjan at last. "Coach Hadlington saw me in the hallway today at lunch and called me over. At first I just thought he was gonna make fun of me, or give me pointers after Sunday's game. But for once he was serious. Apparently..." she took a deep breath, "...a soccer team has dropped out of the International High Schools Tournament in England next month. Coach Hadlington is planning to take a team!"
Vicky Parker is the Kerrisdale Dragon's goalkeeper first and a high school student second. But, like most of her peers, Vicki's life is filled with more than soccer, especially the consuming and sometimes conflicting relationships with friends, boys and her mother. Vicki's character first appeared in Trevor Kew's Trading Goals, another Lorimer "Sports Stories" title. And, while this new title follows Vicki's story, and fans will be pleased to meet her again, Sidelined is an excellent stand-alone title as well.
Lorimer "Sports Stories" is a longstanding staple of Canadian children's literature. With almost 100 titles in print and over 50 titles of recognition for awards and starred literature, the consistency of the series is solid. Most titles have great appeal to sports enthusiasts and will help to get children reading, even when reading is pretty far down the list of a preteen's personal pastimes. Sidelined lives up to the reputation of the series and surpasses most of its other titles with a broader reader-appeal base and excellent storytelling.
Sidelined centres on Vicki and her friends as they learn that they will have a chance to try out for a Vancouver-wide tournament team that will play in a prestigious international event. After-school practice for the tryouts with her friend Marjan eventually turns into a conflict for the affections of Neville. Neville is a high school senior, recently relocated from England, that they enlist to assist with some extra coaching. Added to the stress of high-pressure tryouts and competing crushes is Vicki's relationship with her mother and her mother's new boyfriend, Dave. Vicki is a grounded, likable character who makes human choices and doesn't always do the right thing. Refreshing in her relatable angst, Vicki is a character that preteens will find admirable and reassuring.
Soccer is, not suprisingly, a featured character, plot point and setting for this novel. The live game play sequences are fast-paced and almost visual as they unfold. Readers can virtually watch the game from the sidelines in their mind's eye. Kew's ability to insert soccer terminology without sounding technical is impressive and aids his narrative style. Here's an example of one of Vicki's close friends from a previous school, Parminder Johal, as she leads her team to victory:
And with no more than a minute left, Parm managed to slip the ball between the midfield twin's legs and unleash a screamer that clanged off the post and inside to make a hat trick - three goals in one game!
And, while soccer is obviously important to the story, it doesn't overshadow the plot or disturb the pace. Instead, it provides action-packed pages that even those of us that don't know a soccer field from a tennis court will be excited to read. To aid my review of this title, I enlisted a twenty-something female soccer enthusiast to read the book as well - and the results were the same - a ringing endorsement for the title overall and especially the soccer scenes. She believes Kew's technical knowledge of the game aids his ability to tell the story without getting bogged down in explanations of the terminology. She laments that many sports-oriented novels waste time explaining things that game-lovers already know, but Kew avoids this misstep with crisp descriptions embedded with game-play to support the insider-terms.
Sidelined is an excellent example of a transitional novel with crossover appeal. Soccer fans, reluctant readers, and just about everyone else will enjoy this short chapter book. Young people with a range of ethnicities will relate to the multicultural cast of characters. Teens who enjoy romance will delight in the love triangle of Vicki, Marjan and Neville. Both genders will feel the adrenaline rush of the soccer games and feel empathy for the awkwardness of meeting your mother's new boyfriend for the first time. Even for those that do not regularly purchase series titles, Sidelined deserves a place on your bookshelf.
Beth Maddigan is a children's librarian and instructor in St. John's, NL.
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