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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chris Crutcher's The Losers Bracket deals with tough topics like addiction, adoption, poverty, suicide, and kidnapping head-on. Annie Boots is a foster kid getting pressure from her foster dad to cut off all contact with her biological family, which she subverts in heart-melting and sometimes funny ways. The social welfare system is examined from the inside out. Child Protective Services has been called many times on Annie's mom and sister, and Annie is on a first-name basis with her caseworker. There are tales of child abuse and conflicts between family members that are pockmarked with expletives (including "f--k" and "s--t") and assault: She was duct-taped to a toilet seat as a kid, lived with sex offenders (and was possibly abused by them), and was grabbed, punched, kicked, and hit by family members. A small boy is badly beaten by his mom's boyfriend. Annie acts out violently on the basketball court, punching a girl in the neck. An attempted murder-suicide takes place. Though Annie's wit is as sharp as a tack, her world is not for the faint of heart. Crutcher's background as a family therapist in a mental health center has clearly informed this gritty book.
What's the story?
In LOSERS BRACKET, 16-year-old Annie Boots is a great basketball player, but basketball isn't the only game she's playing when she's on the court. Annie knows that the more games or tournaments she can play in, the more likely she is to see her biological family. Her foster dad has forbidden her contact with them, but she can't resist the draw. Even though they are uneducated, drug-addled, and notorious for making horrible choices, Annie loves them. When something frightening happens to her nephew, she feels she's to blame, and sets out to solve a mystery that changes the shape of her family forever.
Is it any good?
Raw, witty, and straightforward, veteran author Chris Crutcher nails the voice of a teen foster kid who's reconciling her past with her future. Though her world is chaotic, thanks to great therapists and caseworkers, a sweet foster brother and foster mom, Annie Boots manages her fractured family life pretty decently. She's saved by her humor and her ability to separate herself from the addicts and narcissists around her. It helps that she's a great athlete and can take out her frustration on the basketball court -- which might be her ticket into a decent college. Annie's a salty and relevant heroine: She's a big reader, has good friends, and is not afraid to be different.
Losers Bracket vividly captures the kind of life lived by many Americans caught in the tentacles of "the system." There may be a few too many references to heroes that the average reader has probably never heard of, such as record-breaking U.S. long-distance open-water swimmer Lynne Cox, who's mentioned over and over. Other than that tic, the book is fast-paced, and the realism is enjoyable because Annie is an underdog whose successes are worthy of applause.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the foster care system is portrayed in Losers Bracket. How do books, movies, and other media portray kids who are from really tough backgrounds and live life on the edge? How do teens make it work when their lives fall apart?
The definition of "family" gets tested in this story. How do family relationships shape a person? What does "trust" mean to a person like Annie, who has trouble trusting her mother?
Annie's mom has shoplifted because (maybe) she couldn't afford new clothes, getting her kids involved in breaking the law. A social worker lies to protect his clients in the book. Is it ever OK to break the law?
- Author: Chris Crutcher
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Greenwillow Books
- Publication date: April 3, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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