A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that kids -- especially those whose tastes run counter to the herd -- will quickly buy into the convincing school setting and situations in this witty story. Clever dialogue and a tongue-in-cheek depiction of a group of independent thinkers united in confronting community pressure.
What's the story?
As poets, math wizards, and scholars, Ed Sitrow and his ten seventh-grade friends never asked to be teammates. But at South Orange River (S.O.R.) Middle School, every kid must play at least one team sport a year. Because the eleven of them somehow slipped through sixth grade without playing, a special soccer team is created just for them, with a clueless history teacher as coach.
Facing a six-game schedule fully unprepared, they embark on the worst season S.O.R. has ever seen. Game by game, they lose spectacularly. Even worse, they don't seem to care! Their unenthused coach tries to inspire them. Principal, parents, guidance counselor, teachers, and fellow students all try coaxing, cajoling, even threatening them. As the last game looms, the eleven anti-athletes find an unusual way to bond against the prevailing tide and finally a victory that's all their own.
Is it any good?
Avi creates a funny story about kids outside the in-crowd -- with almost no allies. Taking on the sacred cow of school sports, Avi slyly postulates a close-knit band of radical thinkers who have better things to do than play soccer, and then imagines what might happen to their unlikely, unwilling team in a town where athletics is all. It's all about reverse psychology. The triumph is that it works -- for the central characters and even a little for their tormentors.
His caricatures of parents and school administrators are pointed enough to resonate with kids, but not so sharp they're harsh. In the darkest hour for the 11 uninterested players, when no one seems to understand, the reader is entirely engaged, as frustrated and annoyed as the teammates. As he sends up the relentless image of the all-around kid, Avi keeps his criticism good-humored by relying on the realistic voice of his young protagonists, and reasonable by trusting their honesty. This book goes a long way toward airing a widespread but overlooked issue.