Top Prospect

280p. ebook available. Carolrhoda. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781467794336.
Gr 6–10—Eighth grader Travis Gardner is a standout quarterback in his Pop Warner league. Besides coping with academic struggles and making fumbling attempts at romance with best friend Damon's twin sister, Lyn, Travis also deals with his parents' divorce and a strained relationship with an absent and distant dad. Shortly after his older brother, Carter, is awarded a football scholarship to Gainesville University (a barely disguised University of Florida), Travis receives his own scholarship offer from the storied Gators coach, possibly as a distraction from an NCAA investigation. Readers follow Travis through his first season of high school football, his budding celebrity status via an ESPN appearance and a popular Twitter account, a flirtation with steroids as the result of an elbow injury, and shady interactions with a deep-pocketed Gators booster offering "money handshakes" to players. The narrative is told mostly by Travis, though brief interludes from Carter, in addition to news articles from The Gainesville Sentinel, offer different perspectives. Descriptions of the teen's games are dense with football talk and would be difficult for a nonfan to follow, though they might serve as a hook for gridiron junkies. Despite some compelling drama, the exposition is awkward at times and metaphors are often clichéd ("butterflies did cartwheels inside my stomach"). An afterword relates that the novel was inspired by the stories of several middle school athletes who have been recruited by top colleges in recent years.
VERDICT Purchase where there is a high interest in football and where books for reluctant readers are needed.

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