Strong Like You

North Star Editions/Flux. Mar. 2024. 224p. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781635830941.
Gr 7 Up–Football is practically the only thing 15-year-old Walker Lauderdale cares about. But he has more than his share of distractions. His dad, Hank, who has always been a hustler living at the edge of the law, has been missing for a month. Gone with him is Uncle Rufus, a fellow traveler and father to Sawyer, Walker’s cousin, neighbor, and closest friend. There’s a new football coach, bent not only on improving the team’s fortunes but on making successful adults out of his players, along with taking a particular interest in Walker—and his mom. Increasingly obsessed with finding out what happened to his dad, Walker takes enormous risks confronting Lukas, a sometime partner of Hank and Rufus who seems to be desperately hiding what he knows about their fate. The novel is framed in the second person, as Walker’s plea to Hank, an occasionally awkward construction. Coach Widner is Black, while all other characters are cued as white. Walker has a Homecoming fling with a friend of Sawyer’s date and pursues a fumbling romance with new girl Chloe from New York, but female characters are peripheral and not well developed. A serious look at the legacy and impact of violence, especially around the toxic culture of football, along with a compassionate view of the struggle and frequent hopelessness of rural poverty, the novel makes for a compelling read with a mixed but ultimately hopeful conclusion.
VERDICT Recommended for libraries serving middle and high schoolers.

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