Grades 7 - 9 / Ages 12 - 14.
"There are three days in my life that really stand out as the worst. The first worst was the day my parents told me they were getting a divorce ... The second worst day came only six months later when I got a new mother - a stepmother ... It was about a month after they got married that the third worst day hit. Sharon came home and announced that she had been assigned to a special project at work ... Sharon dropped the bomb: the job was halfway across the country."Thirteen year old Jeff Lang introduces himself with this litany of complaints about his life. As though the divorce of his parents wasn't bad enough, he has to adjust to a step-mother who is different in every way from his sports loving Mom. When a move from Toronto to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, becomes a fact, Jeff thinks his life will never be right again. Jeff's love for basketball is what leads him out of home and into the community. Sighting a basketball court, he hits the hoops and is in turn discovered by the local core of neighbourhood players. Jeff is absorbed into the gang but finds that although he matches the players on the court, he is still very much the new kid on the block when he gets set up for a detention on the first day of classes. School dynamics escalate as Jeff finds that Russell, one person to whom he can relate with candour, is targeted by the basketball boys. Problems abound for Jeff as he finds that he is pinched between parental expectations that include Russell and hanging with the hoops group which mixes theft and drinking with their basketball. Jeff does find a way for himself and ends up using his skills on the court to break away from the pattern of the streetwise ball player. In reaching out beyond the confines of the group, he finds that he is part of a new and surprising configuration, with Liz and Russell. As part of a threesome called "The Geeks," he competes for a money prize. This consolidates his new alliances at school and moves him into negotiations at home which clear the way for him to visit his Mom and make peace with his new family.
Fast Break works well as a story of challenge and personal growth where the arenas for conflict are the very familiar home, school and neighbourhood. Jeff is likeable and realistic, chaffing at the changes which he has to face at the beginning of his adolescence. Author Coldwell creates an appropriate voice for Jeff with lots of attitude and snarling back talk on the home front. The challenges facing Jeff are, however, laid on a bit too heavily. With a father barely able to express his own emotions, the family readjustments, and the social stresses of a move, Jeff should not also have to contend with the overstated horror of a math teacher on top of everything else.
A concern over the book is that the cover illustration does not reflect the age of the students in the story. Both boys appear to be somewhere between 10 and 12, rather than the 13 and 14 year olds in the story. As well, the age designation on the back provided by the publisher is for ages 8 to 13. This seems young for a book which includes theft, drinking and some fairly ugly taunting. Although readers love to read about characters slightly older than themselves, this designation does not, when coupled with the cover illustration, indicate clearly enough the subject matter within. While the book would probably be of interest to early adolescents, the cover will not be an asset, nor would it feature easily as a choice to a reluctant reader of older adolescence, again because of the juvenile look of the cover players.
An addition to the Lorimer series "Sports Stories," Fast Break adds basketball and a likeable character named Jeff to the expanding genre of sports writing. More careful attention to audience and book design is needed to ensure that the book is found by its most relevant audience.In Fast Break Jeff work out his moves on the court and off to make a new life for himself.
Recommended with reservations.
Jennifer Johnson works as a librarian in Ottawa, Ontario.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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