Losers Bracket

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Losers Bracket Book Poster Image
Families and worlds collide in gritty story of a foster kid.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Characters who are avid readers and intelligent siblings lend smarts to this story. Lots of books and biographies mentioned: To Kill a MockingbirdLiving Dead Girl, The Color Purple, Swimming to Antarctica, among others. Annie's book club has heated discussions about subjects such as who real heroes are. Some of these heroes include Serena Williams, Marilyn vos Savant, Jerrie Mock, Lynne Cox, President Eisenhower, Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, and Bill Russell. Vocabulary lifts this book as well: "scurrilous," "bilious," "deconstructed," etc. 

Positive Messages

Working on yourself results in good things. Be the teller of your own story. The truth can set you free. Accepting who you are can make you strong.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Boots family is known for its knuckleheads, drug users, and shoplifters, but Annie Boots works hard to make herself a better person, even if she harbors serious resentments. She sticks with therapy, respects her social worker, focuses on making a better future for herself, her family. Her mom's boyfriend, Warren, is a Vietnam vet with a good soul. He watches over Annie and her mom, gives her advice, tries to save a child. Annie's caseworker sticks his neck out for Annie's family to the extent that he gets fired for lying on their behalf.

Violence

Annie has grown up with violence in her home, which is why she was removed fom her "bio" family. She was duct-taped to a toilet seat as a kid, lived with sex offenders (and was possibly abused by them), was grabbed, punched, kicked, and hit by family members. She also acts out violently on the basketball court, punching a girl in the neck. A small child has been beaten badly by a man. An attempted murder-suicide takes place.

Sex

Annie mentions having fooled around with boys, but it's not described. Her mom tells her to use her body to attract boys. Mentions of masturbation. Annie says she hears her sister is "a good athlete in bed."

Language

Heavy use of strong language includes "f--k," "f--k you," "s--t," "bitch," "whore," "bulls--t," "ass," "a--hole," and combinations of these. 

Consumerism

Lots of everyday brands referenced: Walmart, McDonald's, IHOP, Hershey's, Chevy, Mercedes, Yale, Stanford, U of W, iPhone, Nike.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Annie comes from a family of alcoholics, drug addicts. Her sister uses meth, and Annie can identify the symptoms (skittish behavior, weight loss, bad teeth); her mom abuses pills. Annie bounces in and out of foster care according to her mother's addiction -- Nancy's often high or trying to get clean. Her sister, Sheila, carries on the same pattern with her son. Annie's mom and sister both go through rehab unsuccessfully. A character smokes a joint. 

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.

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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?

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