Complex story of football, friendship, and family secrets.

What parents need to know

Educational value
Not applicable
Positive messages

Hard work and respect pay off for Marcus as he tries to make a place for himself on the local football team. Even though Troy has a lot of anger toward Marcus, it comes from the depth of his feelings about his family issues and he eventually overcomes it. Charlie's whole family has to come to terms with his secret and figure out the best way to deal with it.

Positive role models

Marcus is a determined, well-meaning kid who looks up to Charlie and
tries to help him by covering for him and hanging out with him.
Charlie's son, Troy, is angry, but he comes to
realize that Marcus is a good friend to his dad. It is clear that Troy's anger comes from the sorrow over his dad's secret and the fear of what the secret means for his family. Alyssa is the flirtatious head cheerleader with a passion for football and a head for the game. All of the adults in the story are supportive and kind. Charlie is sweet, but his secret gets him and Marcus into trouble.


Troy punches and shoves Marcus, but the fight is broken up. Troy shouts at Alyssa and Marcus and calls Marcus a "dead man." A shocking but not graphic death of a main character.


 Phrases such as "nice buns," "jump his bones," and "shaking your butt," are used. Alyssa jokes about managing Marcus' "equipment." Alyssa enters the locker room where the football players are changing and Marcus is fresh from the shower in only a towel. A scene where Alyssa and Marcus go into a closet together at a party in order to make out. 


Some use of words like "pissed," "damn," and "stupid."


Troy drives a Vespa scooter, which is mentioned frequently.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Main characters go to a party where teens are doing "something stupid, if not illegal." Marcus is offered a beer by a teammate, which he doesn't like, but he takes it and pretends to like it because it is the first symbolic gesture of friendship between him and the teammate.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a complex story involving family secrets and the lengths that some families will go to in order to protect them. There is one party where teens drink beer and there are a couple of minor fights, but overall this is a mild book with a good message. There is some sexual innuendo, with a couple of brief kissing scenes. A main character dies unexpectedly but not graphically.

What's the story?

Marcus Jordan is the new kid in town, hoping to make a name for himself as quarterback on the all-star football team. The close-knit team, led by returning starting QB Troy Popovich, is reluctant to let him into their circle. When Marcus befriends Charlie, a mischievous man in his 50s who crashes Marcus' solo practices at the local park, he has no idea that Charlie was a celebrated NFL linebacker. He also has no idea that Charlie is Troy's father and that the Popovich family is hiding a secret from the entire town. Marcus and Troy butt heads over everything from football to Charlie to the head cheerleader, Troy's ex and Marcus' new love interest.

Is it any good?


POP goes beyond being a good read for sports fans. Yes, there's a lot of football action -- the team deals with their conflicts while trying to remain undefeated for a second straight season -- but the action is nothing compared to the page-turning drama of Charlie and his secret.

Charlie and Marcus share a special, if confusing, bond from the first time they meet at the local park. Thinking of his absent father, "Comrade Stalin," Marcus is a little confused by Charlie's playfulness and seeming lack of responsibility. The confusion gives way to amazement when he sees firsthand the awesome strength and agility that is more common in a man half Charlie's age. Charlie is thrilled to play football (and maybe pull a few pranks on the town curmudgeon) with "Mac," and it quickly becomes apparent that they are more important to each other than they realized.

Families can talk about...

  • Troy and his family think they know what's best for Charlie because they're family. Does family always know best? Why was it hard for them to see the truth about Charlie?

  • Why do you think it was so important to Marcus that Charlie be at the EBU homecoming game? Why do you think it was so important to Charlie's family that he not be there? Do you think Charlie's few moments in the spotlight were worth it for him or was it too much of a risk?

  • Do you think Charlie's family's decision to keep his issue a secret was for Charlie's sake or for the family's sake? Do you think they should have been more open about it or do you think it was a good idea to keep it a secret?

Book details

Author:Gordon Korman
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Balzer + Bray
Publication date:August 25, 2009
Number of pages:272
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Read aloud:12
Read alone:12

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Learning ratings

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byqsrghnmkjhf May 11, 2011

perfet for everyone

i dont think people should worry about stuff like this, shur theres violence but its a book about football and it rases awereness on the subject of concusions and their link to alzheimer's
Kid, 12 years old January 17, 2010


I thought it was a GREAT book!!! A fantastic book about football, friendship, and loyalty!!!
What other families should know
Great messages
Adult Written bytoaster December 16, 2010


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