Carl Deuker Payback Time
280 pp. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children 2010
Summary (From Goodreads): Through the eyes of a distinctly non-athletic protagonist—a fat high school journalist named Mitch—veteran sports novelist Deuker reveals the surprising truth behind a mysterious football player named Angel. When Angel shows up Lincoln High, he seems to have no past—or at least not one he is willing to discuss. Though Mitch gets a glimpse of Angel’s incredible talent off the field, Angel rarely allows himself to shine on the field. Is he an undercover cop, wonders Mitch? Or an ineligible player? In pursuit of a killer story, Mitch decides to find out just who this player is and what he’s done. In the end, the truth surprises everyone.
I’ve heard wonderful things about Carl Deuker’s books, so I decided it was finally time to read one. I bought Night Hoops a while ago and it’s currently sitting on my Mrs. A Needs to Read shelf. I don’t know why I haven’t read that one yet, but I saw Payback Time and decided to give it a go. I’m glad that I did because my sports fans and football players in class will most likely enjoy it.
Mitch is an aspiring journalist that wants to write about serious topics in hopes that it will help build his portfolio to impress prestigious universities. When he finds out that he isn’t going to be the editor of his school’s paper, he’s extremely disappointed. To add salt to the wound, he’s been assigned the sports section. Mitch is overweight, and while he enjoys sports, being teased about his weight has kept him from participating. This isn’t exactly a match made in heaven, but he decides to take his new role seriously.
This is where the story really gets rolling. Mitch is starting the school year by writing stories about the varsity football season. He attends a practice to interview the team’s star, Horst Diamond and Coach McNulty. While there, Mitch and his photographer, Kimi, spot Angel Marichal who appears to be quite the player himself. Mitch isn’t really interested in giving more attention to Horst than needed, and when he asked McNulty about Angel, Mitch is told that Angel isn’t worth interviewing or paying attention to. So despite the fact that Angel appears to have quite the arm, he’s benched and almost never put on the field.
Mitch’s journalistic side gets the better of him because he knows there’s a story about Angel, so he and Kimi start digging. The story takes off and we get a mix of Mitch and Kimi looking up information about Angel, Mitch trying to lose weight and feel comfortable in his own skin, and getting play-by-plays as Mitch watches and reports the football games. Teens who enjoy a good mystery will like the hunt for Angel’s story. Readers who like books about teens with body issues will enjoy Mitch’s personal story. And the sports fans are sure to enjoy the play-by-plays.
Deuker has written a fast-paced book which I enjoyed. I skimmed over most of the “what’s happening on the field” sections because I’m not interested in that, even though I know some readers are. I enjoyed Mitch’s personal story, but it felt detached from the rest of the book. His running route is what brought him to Angel’s neighborhood and sparked more curiousity about him, but besides that and a few small parts in the book, I didn’t really see the point of adding it to the story. The climax of the story was exciting, but the ending left me disappointed. It was rushed and felt disconnected from the book.