CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013
Jay is returning to Richmond school for grade 9. He was on the basketball team for the past two years, but his grade 8 year was interrupted by a fire in his family's home. Though no one was hurt, the fire caused the family to move in with their grandparents in Centreville. While attending school in Centreville, Jay played for the Centreville basketball team, including games against Richmond. He is nervous to be returning to Richmond. He is unsure of his reception because he has played for Richmond's arch-rival.
As it turns out, Jay is wise to be nervous because his former best friend, Colin, Richmond's basketball MVP, holds a grudge against Jay for being a "traitor". Colin has always had a volatile temper, but this year things are much worse.
Jay, meanwhile, makes friends with a new kid in school, Kyung, who has just moved to Canada from Korea. He, too, is a basketball fan, which surprises Jay until he learns more about the professional and school basketball teams in Korea.
Conflict with Colin intensifies when basketball tryouts begin. Coach Willis notes Colin's arrogant attitude and reminds all the boys that basketball is a team sport. Jay, Colin, and Kyung all make the team, and Jay is elected captain. Then Coach Willis has an accident which takes him out of picture. Though the girl's team coach is temporarily in charge, Jay finds himself with a lot of responsibility and the need to help Colin resolve his anger issues and his egocentric playing style.
Sylvia Gunnery is an experienced author who very capably fulfills the requirements for Lorimer's "Sports Stories" series. She supplies fast-paced action, character, and local colour. There is action on and off the court in Game Face. Not only does Gunnery describe the interaction and plays during practices, but the action climax of the book is a well-described first game of the season, with a complex and well-executed final winning play. As well, she deftly describes the interactions between Colin and Jay. Colin both snubs and attacks Jay, trying to encourage other students to accept his distrust and dislike of Jay, who had formerly been his friend. Many students will recognize Colin's bullying behaviour.
The characters of Jay, Kyung, and Colin are well defined. Jay, though at times lacking in self-confidence, displays many admirable qualities. He welcomes Kyung, a new student to the school, by assisting and encouraging him, as well as expressing a genuine interest in his interests and his life in Korea. He consideration of others is displayed by his suggestion to Brendan, who did not make the team because of an injury, that he continue to practice at lunch hour and ask to become the team manager while his injury heals. He is concerned about Colin's behaviour, not only because he is hurt by the hostility of his former friend, but also because Colin's behaviour is not good for the team. He is respectful of adults -- the coach, the principal, his parents and grandparents -- and kind to his younger brother and Colin's younger sister. He is thoughtful, considering others' motives and trying to find the best solution for a problem. He delegates well, encouraging others to display their skills. And yet he is not perfect: he confronts Colin at the dance, causing a scene right in front of the coach.
Kyung is many things that we expect of foreign students -- a little shy, quiet, staying on the fringes of things, a good student. He also has hidden depths. He notices the problems with Colin and points them out to Jay. He is the one who insists that the situation must be resolved and has a plan -- having Jay talk to one of Colin's followers -- and locates the boy so Jay can speak to him. He is an intelligent, skilful, and devoted basketball player. He can explain tactics at practice and comes up with the strategy for the winning play at the game. He is an enthusiastic participant at the dance.
What readers see of Colin is mostly filtered through Jay's perceptions of him. Jay and Colin have been friends since grade six. Even before the fire that prompted Jay's family's temporary move, Colin had been irascible. His arrogant, self-centred self-confidence has been fed by being chosen MVP the previous season. He cannot forgive Jay for playing on a rival team. He has no patience for players who don't play at his standard or who don't follow his lead. Jay knows that the coach is close to cutting Colin from the team and, after missing two practices, Colin is suspended for the initial game. Reading a newspaper article about a player for the Halifax Rainmen, talking with Colin's mom, and seeing Colin hiding and miserable in the washroom with all his basketball gear when the rest of the team is called to the bus for the game make Jay even more determined to help Colin turn things around.
The setting for the story is not just confined to the school corridors and gym. Gunnery gives the reader a taste of Nova Scotia by having Kyung and Jay go with Jay's family to the farewell to the boats on the first day of lobster season. She creates a picture of individual docks, each lighted in the dark, each with its own boat loaded with dull-green wire traps and brightly painted buoys and crowd of people waiting for the sky to lighten and the clock to reach 7 am. Then the lobstermen cast off, leaving their well-wishers behind.
Since it has been a long time since I was a school basketball fan, and my playing experience never extended beyond phys-ed class, I asked a grade nine student who plays on our school team to evaluate the basketball action in the book. He thought the action was well-described and fast paced. He enjoyed reading the book but found that, in his experience, no team captain was ever given as much responsibility as Jay.
Sylvia Gunnery has created a strong entry in the "Sports Stories" series. Intended for lower level readers, Game Face has the requisite action to hold readers' attention.
Rebecca King is a Library Support Specialist with the Halifax Regional School Board in Halifax, NS.
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