Review: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

Wild CardsTitle: Wild Cards

Author: Simone Elkeles

Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 24th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemporary

Source: ARC borrowed

Summary (From Goodreads):

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain–people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

Hmmm…I have a lot of thoughts about Wild Cards.  I enjoy reading Simone Elkeles books–I’ve read almost all of them–but this should have been better.  There’s plenty of potential for this to be a better written story with more developed characters.  I think Simone Elkeles tried to write a girl-who-plays-football book, but she ended up with a girl-who-falls-for-a-bad-boy book.

Elkeles is known for her YA romance, and she really turns it up in Wild Cards.  She’s more descriptive than she has been in other books.  I don’t know if it is really necessary though.  The reason I’m not sure it is necessary is that while I was reading it, I kept thinking of it as writing that wanted to be adult, but didn’t fall under New Adult, so it’s tamer for older young adult audiences.  I don’t have a problem adding this to my class library, and I will buy my own copy for that purpose, but those few scenes made me wonder what her real intentions were when she wrote this.

I did like Derek’s character.  Why is Simone Elkeles so stuck on writing “bad boy” characters?  Derek really isn’t a bad boy.  I guess he’s supposed to be because he pulled a prank at his old school, talks with a “southern” accent, has a good body, and is coy with Ashtyn.  But really, he never truly acts like a bad boy.  Ashtyn tells us he is, which is an issue I have with the writing in Wild Cards, but I never really saw anything that would make Derek a bad boy, at least under my definition.  Derek may not be forthright with his emotions, but there isn’t a whole lot of deep discussion going on or being attempted either.  His character was the most developed and had the strongest voice which is why I liked reading his parts.

Ashtyn, on the other hand, usually irritated me.  There is so much potential to write her into a great character.  I kept waiting for all of the great football scenes that she was supposed to be in, but there are hardly any.  She’s a kicker, so I understand that her role on the team isn’t as involved, but I think I can count the number of legitimate football scenes she is in on one hand.  I want to hand this to my students who crave more books like Dairy Queen and Catching Jordan, but I think Wild Cards will ultimately disappoint those readers.  It’s all about Ashtyn being wishy-washy over Derek and vice versa.  Sigh.  The end of the book redeemed some of what’s lacking in regards to sports, but it didn’t mean as much because I never really felt Ashtyn’s passion for football.  She told me all about it, and I understand the history, but it fell flat.  Again with the telling.

This is a very critical review, but like I said, I still enjoyed it and will read the second book.  It’s still a fun book to read and an easy read.  I went into reading it expecting more than what I got which is why I’m so disappointed.  I know plenty of my girls will devour this book when I buy a copy for my classroom.  I just wish it went through more revision.

Flash Reviews (14)–Audiobooks Edition

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

If it weren’t for audiobooks, I wouldn’t have ended the school year having read 81 books (I originally thought it was 80 but forgot about a graphic novel).  I took on a lot of extra work including writing a couple grants, preparing to teach a brand new class in a fall plus a class I’ve never taught before, and more.  So yeah, audiobooks rock because I can “read” while I’m trying to do lots of other time consuming things.

Title: Dairy Queen

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

Narrator: Natalie Moore

Summary (From Goodreads): When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D.J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

Flash Review: After a number of high recommendations from friends, and listening to the sample on Audible, I knew I had to listen to Dairy Queen.  What I’m discovering as I continue to listen to audiobooks, is that so many narrators can make or break the book.  In this case, Natalie Moore made this book.  She is D.J. whether I continue to listen on audio or pick the book up to read.  As I’m sitting here typing this review I can hear D.J. voice perfectly.  I haven’t listened to as many audiobooks as others, but so far Natalie Moore is the best narrator I’ve heard.  She used a Wisconsin accent and everything when reading Dairy Queen!  Even better, she never strayed and spoke as other characters when she wasn’t supposed to.  That’s something that impresses me, especially during scenes with a lot of dialogue.  Since finishing Dairy Queen I’ve listened to the second book The Off Season and I plan on listening to the third book, Front and Center.  If you’re new to audiobooks, starting with Dairy Queen is an excellent choice!  If you love listening to audiobooks and haven’t read Dairy Queen yet, then listening to this one next is an excellent choice!

One of things I love best about Dairy Queen is that not only is the audio awesome, the story is too.  D.J. doesn’t think of herself as especially pretty, smart, or special in any way.  She’s a Schwenk dairy farmer and that’s pretty much it.  Her brothers are the ones that are special because they’re away playing college football.  D.J. begins to think differently of herself when Brian Nelson, a rival high school football player, comes to work on their farm.  He needs a better work ethic and as D.J. spends more time with him, she’s forced to think of herself differently.  Is she just a cow doing what’s expected of her, or is she going to stand out and do what she really wants?  Spending more time with Brian also helps D.J. realize that maybe she needs to be a better communicator, something she and her family don’t practice enough.  Dairy Queen is an excellent contemporary novel about the importance of family and following your heart’s desire, whether it’s love or football or both.

Title: Out of the Pocket

Author: Bill Konigsberg

Narrator: Joshua Swanson

Summary (From Goodreads): Star quarterback Bobby Framingham, one of the most talented high school football players in California, knows he’s different from his teammates. They’re like brothers, but they don’t know one essential thing: Bobby is gay. Can he still be one of the guys and be honest about who he is? When he’s outed against his will by a student reporter, Bobby must find a way to earn back his teammates’ trust and accept that his path to success might be more public, and more difficult, than he’d hoped. An affecting novel about identity that also delivers great sports writing.

Joshua Swanson delivers a good performance in the audio for Out of the Pocket.  We offered this novel to our freshmen as part of our To Kill a Mockingbird YA connections unit which is why I decided to listen to the audio.  At the time I was swamped with other books to read, and considering the amount of driving I do to work and back, I figured this was a good way to read the book before the unit.  At times Swanson’s narration was a bit slow, but it wasn’t monotonous by any means.  His version of Carrie was also far from what I would have pictured, to the point of being ridiculous.  Besides those two points, the audio is engaging and entertaining.  I was engaged enough that at certain parts in the book I actually gasped at what characters said.  Out of the Pocket is a good choice whether you want to listen to it or physically read it.

Out of the Pocket will appeal to readers who are interested in contemporary fiction, sports fiction, and/or LGBT fiction.  Bill Konigsberg did a wonderful job writing a story that’s about identity, sports, friendship and family.  Bobby Framingham knows he’s gay, but he doesn’t know what to do about it or who to tell.  He doesn’t know if he should tell anyone because he doesn’t know of any openly gay athletes who aren’t retired from their sport.  Football is extremely important to Bobby, and it could land him a college scholarship, so telling someone he’s gay could put that scholarship in jeopardy.  Coming out is an important moment and Bobby wants to do it when the time’s right.  I liked Out of the Pocket because the characters are real and Bobby’s life isn’t sugar-coated, nor overly dramatized.  It was a good book for my freshmen to read because many of them don’t have friends who are gay (that they know of), and consequently they had some thoughtful discussions about the story and their connections to it.  Once they started reading Out of the Pocket, they understood the comparisons we (their teachers) made with To Kill a Mockingbird when deciding which books to use with the unit.  I didn’t really care about the scenes with football plays and all, but everything else about the story really worked for me as both a reader and as a teacher.

Let’s Try Again: My List of Six

I don’t remember when I tried Michelle from Galleysmith’s idea of creating a list of books to read in a certain amount of time, but I do know it helped a little bit even though I didn’t completely succeed.  I’m a list maker, but I’m horrible at setting books-to-read goals because I’m such a moody reader.  If I’m in the mood for something lovey, but I’m currently reading something suspenseful, there’s a good chance I’ll switch books.  I’m not always that way, but I know myself enough as a reader to recognize that I do this.  I’m trying Michelle’s idea again because it’s the end of the school year, I have books to read for our new curriculum, I’m starting my second to last Masters class, and I’m going to be overwhelmed.  So I figure if I create a list of books to (try t0) stick with, then maybe I’ll be less stressed and more productive.

Here’s my list of six (six because I’m not getting over my head with this):

The Forgetting Curve by Angie Smibert (Goodreads)

Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg (Goodreads)

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender (Goodreads)

Vicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer (Goodreads)

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima (I WILL finally finish this!) (Goodreads)

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore (Yay!!) (Goodreads)

Alternates in case I can’t get into one of my six:

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (Goodreads)

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger (Goodreads)

Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday (Goodreads)

Book Trailer Thursday (63)–Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

So I guess I’m all about Geoff Herbach and his greatness this week!  I was on his website and found this new book trailer for Stupid Fast, which I really like because it was made by teens.  I’m looking forward to showing this to my students since I’m offering  an extra credit opportunity which allows them to make book trailers.  I hope you like it!

Summary (From Goodreads):

Praise for Stupid Fast
“A rare mix of raw honesty and hilarity. Stupid Fast is Stupid Good “
-Peter Bognanni,
author of The House of Tomorrow
My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing.
Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls -especially Aleah?
So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah’s house in the night. But deep down I know I can’t run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.


Top Books Read in September

This school year I’m doing something different with my book check-out system.  I’m still using a binder, but now I have it separated by class period; it seems to be a much better system because the kids can find everything easier as they check in and check out books.  Because I’m doing this now, I decided to break up these posts according to grade or class.  Right now I have a few classes of freshmen and one YA Lit class, so I have two different sets.  If I’m really ambitious, maybe I’ll start breaking it down according to guys/girls.  I hope you like the change 🙂

I’m starting with the most popular books borrowed and read by my freshmen.  This group of freshmen has really become excited about reading, but it took a few vocal kids and some booktalks and book trailers to get them more excited about reading.  Many of them were honest at the beginning of the year and told me they really dislike reading.

Top Book Borrowed & Read in September (3 students):

My freshmen have read over 30 different books.  Not that many of these titles have been read more than once, so instead of trying to break it down, I’m including a variety of the titles they’ve been reading and enjoying.

Various Popular Books Among My Freshmen:

The following books are the most popular among my YA Lit students.  In the month of September, they borrowed and read 54 different titles.

Top Books Borrowed & Read in September (3 students each):

Borrowed 2 Times:

Various Popular Books Among My YA Lit Students:

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated Books

I’m switching things up this week by participating in the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  I’m not going meme-crazy this week, so I’ll probably skip Waiting on Wednesday tomorrow since I’m doing this today.  I do have reviews to write…

ANYWAY, I saw the topic for this one–Underrated Books–and felt the need to participate.  I love paranormal YA just as much as the next YA reader, but realistic fiction simply doesn’t get enough attention.  This post is all about my top ten realistic fiction picks that deserve more press, readers, attention, etc.

My Top 10 List of The Most Underrated (Contemporary/Realistic) YA Titles
(In no particular order)

1.  Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell (Goodreads): This was released a few years ago, but I just found it a few weeks ago.  It’s full of wit, humor, and heart.  It deals with issues like self-esteem, fitting in, self-identity, etc.  It’s a book that’s hard to put down and one you won’t easily forget.  I can’t wait to introduce my students to this awesome novel.

2.  Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard (Goodreads): I’m just about finished with this 2011 debut and I can’t understand why I haven’t read more reviews for this book.  I know quite a few YA bloggers are adults, myself included, but if they’re reading and loving YA books, why haven’t they read and reviewed Like Mandarin?!  I know we can’t read them all, but this is a stellar YA title.  If you are ever wondering what book you should recommend to a freshmen/sophomore girl, please hand them this book.  I see girls like Grace EVERY DAY at school.  The girls who just want to fit in.  The girls who are incredibly gifted, but are afraid to show it.  The girls who want to break out of their shell.  I need to save some of this for my review, but to make it simple, I’m going to talk this book up like crazy when the school year starts.  This book definitely needs more attention.

3.  Something Like Hope by Shawn Goodman (Goodreads): I think I’ve read one review for this book.  ONE.  Shawn Goodman works in juvenile detention centers which is where his inspiration for this book came from.  I decided to read Something Like Hope when I came home from work and found it in my mailbox.  The only reason I put it down was because I simply had to sleep so I could function at work the next day.  My first couple of classes the next day had SSR longer than normal because I couldn’t stop reading Shavonne’s story.  I cried at the end, and thankfully I finished reading it during my prep.  Twitter was on fire this summer over the dark YA controversy.  This book is written for those teens.  It’s also written for the teens who want to understand their troubled peers.  I can’t wait to read another book by Shawn Goodman because he knows exactly how to tell the stories of teens who often fall to the wayside.

4. Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads): Honestly, this book might get more attention than I think it does, but I still feel like it should be on this list so it gets more attention.  Geoff Herbach hit the nail on the head when he wrote Stupid Fast.  It’s the PERFECT book for teen guys who like sports, but it’s also the perfect book for teen guys who are awkward and feel out of place.  I love the writing and Felton’s asides as he’s narrating.  The humor is fantastic–I laughed constantly.  Seriously, this is a gem of a book that deserves more attention.

5. Party by Tom Leveen (Goodreads): I read this 2010 debut last summer and really enjoyed it.  There’s an end-of-school party and each of the characters in the book gets a chapter devoted to them from their perspective.  This ended up being one of the more popular additions to my classroom library last school year.  I think it’s because of the switching in perspective.  Since we’re experiencing the story through so many different characters, it gives us the opportunity to see the whole picture.  It also gives readers the chance to see that parties and people aren’t always what they seem.

6. Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn (Goodreads): I read this one the summer after I graduated from college, which was really fortunate because I had it for my classroom library (it was so small then!) when I was hired at Clio.  Unfortunately, women often become the victims of domestic abuse; it’s even sadder when teenage girls are abused by their boyfriends.  There are books like Dreamland by Sarah Dessen and But I Love Him by Amanda Grace that deal with this issue from the girl’s perspective.  Alex Flinn wrote the story of an abusive relationship from the guy’s point of view.  We see the story from present day forward, and also from when Nick and Caitlin started dating up until the present via Nick’s journals.  I teach this book in my Young Adult Lit course and it’s always interesting to hear what my students have to say.  Some of them end up with conflicting feelings for Nick.  Some start questioning their own relationships.  It recently received a new cover, so maybe it will get a little more attention.

7. Sold by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads): Not only is this book beautifully written in vignettes, a first for Patricia McCormick, it tells a very important story about a girl from Nepal sold into prostitution.  I read this in one sitting.  What Lakshmi goes through is horrifying.  McCormick wrote this story in such a way that you certainly know what’s happening to Lakshmi, but it’s not overly detailed.  It’s a powerful story of survival and hope.

8. Right Behind You by Gail Giles (Goodreads): This is a book that I read during my first year of teaching and quickly discovered that it’s a home run book for many of my reluctant male readers.  The story will grab you within the first couple pages when Kip tells you that he set another boy on fire.  The book follows Kip’s life from that moment on–when he’s at a juvenile detention center and as he’s trying to start his life over.  One of my boys even admitted to crying when he read this one.

9. OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy (Goodreads): This is a spring 2011 debut and it’s utterly fantastic.  Ellie Taylor is a girl who knows where she stands and speaks up for herself.  She loves public speaking and wants to attend a prestigious high school that will broaden her horizons.  To help improve her chances of getting into the school, she goes to a Christian camp where she’ll compete in a public speaking competition.  The prize is a scholarship to this school.  The problem Ellie faces is that she’s Jewish, and she comes to suspect that the scholarship benefactor may not be okay with this.  I was so impressed by Amy Fellner Dominy’s writing.  This is a wonderful, character-driven story dealing with tough issues gracefully. Without a doubt, I’ll be reading more of her books.

10. Paper Towns by John Green (Goodreads): I know John Green is a very popular author, and deservedly so, but I don’t know if Paper Towns really gets the attention it deserves.  It’s full of Green’s usual fantastic wit and humor.  I love the sense of adventure in this book.  Quentin is kind of nerdy, but so very awesome.  And while I love Looking for Alaska, I think I like that Margo isn’t really present in most of the book.  It gives us a chance to really get to know Quentin.  In LfA, Alaska has a real influence on Pudge and how he acts.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it was nice getting to know Quentin without the direct influence of Margo.

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

Carrie Harris Bad Taste in Boys

201 pp.  Delacorte Press (Random House)  2011  ISBN: 978-0-385-73968-9

Source: Purchased

Interest: 2011 Debut Author

Summary (From Goodreads): Someone’s been a very bad zombie.

Kate Grable is horrified to find out that the football coach has given the team steroids. Worse yet, the steroids are having an unexpected effect, turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless flesh-eating zombies. No one is safe–not her cute crush Aaron, not her dorky brother, Jonah . . . not even Kate!

She’s got to find an antidote–before her entire high school ends up eating each other. So Kate, her best girlfriend, Rocky, and Aaron stage a frantic battle to save their town. . . and stay hormonally human.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but I never thought I’d like a zombie book, let alone love one.  Zombies simply aren’t my thing.  When I bought Zombies vs. Unicorns I already knew I was Team Unicorn.  I adored unicorn books when I was growing up.  Zombies just gross me out.  But then I heard about Bad Taste in Boys and read a ton of positive reviews.  Plus, Carrie is signed up to be interviewed by my students so I wanted to get the book for them to read.  I gave it a shot and loved every minute of it!

Are the zombies in this book gross? Yes, but I was still laughing even though body parts were falling off and guys were puking some seriously stinky stuff.  Carrie has written a hilarious cast of characters that kept me laughing even as Kate was carrying around a man’s foot.  Her dorky brother, Jonah was one of my favorite characters.  He reminded me of my brother because even though he’s younger, he still looks out for Kate.  He becomes a bigger part of the story once the zombie mayhem really picks up, and he had me giggling in all of his scenes.  The “sword” from the game he plays with his friends cracked me up–plastic pipe and duct tape.  Such a protective brother 🙂

Kate has become another favorite of mine as well.  I love how geeky she is!  She’s a science whiz, very witty, and awkward around guys, but she really holds her own.  She’s worried about her guys (the football players) and wants to make sure they’re not being harmed when she discovers the unmarked vials in Coach’s office.  She puts her knowledge to work and tries to keep everyone safe and from becoming a zombie.  The fact that she’s pretty rational when she discovers what’s going on is really impressive.  I’ve been hearing quite a bit of grumbling about female characters in paranormal YA being too wimpy.  This is simply not the case with Kate Grable.  She can kick zombie butt, uncover a mystery, and get a guy’s attention all at the same time without being the “damsel in distress.”

When I bought Bad Taste in Boys I was excited to find out that it isn’t a 400+ page door-stopper.  I don’t have anything against long books, but it’s refreshing to read one that isn’t.  Carrie Harris did a fantastic job pacing this story.  Nothing felt rushed or like information was missing.  It’s a fun, campy, well-written story.  The characters and humor were by far my favorite things about the book.

I can’t wait to add this book to my classroom library this fall.  I know I’m going to earn some major brownie points when I tell my students that I loved a zombie book and that I think they should read it too.

Students Want to Know: Geoff Herbach

I’m very excited about this Students Want to Know post.  Geoff has written an utterly fantastic debut that appeals to both guys and girls.  Stupid Fast has been a home run book for my reluctant boys because of its humor, sports theme, and honesty.

This is a long interview, but one of my boys that read it really enjoyed it and had great questions for Geoff.  Thank you for doing this with my students, Geoff, and taking the time to answer Adam’s questions!  If you’d like to win a copy of Stupid Fast, fill out the form at the end of the interview.

Summary (From Goodreads): Fifteen-year-old Felton Reinstein has always been on the smallish side, but in his sophomore year he starts growing…and growing.

During gym one day he smokes the football jocks in a 600-yard race. Felton has never been interested in sports, but there’s no doubt-he is “stupid fast.” As he juggles his newfound athletic prowess, his mom’s sudden depression, an annoying little brother, and his first love, he discovers a shocking secret about his past which explains why he’s turning out the way he is.

** Geoff’s Website **
** Add Stupid Fast on Goodreads **
** My review of Stupid Fast **
** Stupid Fast is in stores now!! **


  • Where did you get the inspiration for the plot?
    In some ways, I got the plot from my own history.  I was a pretty weird kid who sort of found myself in sports.  The only time my crazy, yappy brain shut up was while playing sports.  I wasn’t Felton good, but pretty good.  I’ve been thinking for years about a story of a kid with many more problems than I had and also huge ability and how that might play out.  A couple of years ago when I thought of the title Stupid Fast, it all fell into place.  Here’s a kid who does exactly what comes naturally to him and that reveals the truth of his life.
  • I thought Andrew’s persona was hilarious.  The way he said whatever he wanted and his antics to get attention from Jerri was super funny, especially when he burnt his clothes up. Did you know somebody like Andrew that you used to work off of?
    I’ve known a couple of people who are sort of like Andrew.  I love mega-geeks who are fearless about who they are.  It would never occur to Andrew to be anyone but who he is.  He is the opposite of angsty.  One day on public radio I heard an interview of a young musician and the kid said something like, “Yes, I like music, but I might want to be a zoo keeper, except I don’t like poop, because it smells bad.”  I thought, ooh.  I have to use that.  That’s perfect.
  • To me, the setting seemed like pure farm land.  Why did you choose this setting?
    I grew up in Platteville, Wisconsin, which shares a lot of attributes with Bluffton.  What I wanted to get across about these little towns is that they are on one hand exactly what you’d expect (farms, a little rough, a little boring), but also changing and multi-cultural and connected to the big world (especially through cable and internet).  I know these places well.  I live in one today.  Mankato, Minnesota, where I teach college is also both small and dynamic and interesting.
  • Why did you choose the piano as the instrument that Andrew and Aleah shared in common?
    My dad was a really good pianist.  He showed me a lot of good classical music when I was growing up.  I felt like I knew enough about the instrument and the music to write well about it.
  • How come Jerri didn’t want her kids to call her “Mom”?
    It was part of her half-baked politics.  She wanted her kids to see themselves as equals with her and not part of a power dynamic.  I know people who raised kids similarly.  It didn’t do the kids any harm (except making them seem a little weird to others).  Funniest thing I remember about a kid (several years younger than me) who called his parents by first name: When he three or four-years-old, after he used the bathroom, he would shout, “Bill, Mary, please wipe my bottom!”  It totally killed me.  I’d fall on the floor laughing (even though I was like seven at the time).
  • How did you come up with the nicknames for the different stereotypes of people in the town like “honkies”?
    With the nicknames, I wanted them to sound inflammatory, like the dorky Felton and Gus were really trying to be mean, but also show they had no idea about why these names would be inflammatory.  Gus and Felton are teetering between childhood and adulthood.  They’re really sort of innocent.  So, they call one group honkies (although they don’t know why) and another group poop stinkers, which is totally childish.  I also find Gus and Felton hilarious, so the names have to be funny!
  • Are you working on any other books?
    I’m working on a follow-up to Stupid Fast (due to my editor in one month!?) that is more focused on Andrew.  It’s called Nothing Special.
  • I really think this should be an award-winning book (when it officially comes out).  What was your goal for this book when you first started?  What is your goal for it now that you’re done?
    Wow, thank you!  I really just wanted to tell a good, simple, funny story (my first novel for adults is this complex form that I think gets a little lost).  I still just want people to be entertained and to care about the characters. But, yeah, my experience with decent fiction is that it makes me more compassionate, helps me understand the world better.  So, if Stupid Fast can do that for a few people, I’ll be pretty psyched.
  • Did you intend for this book to be more about football and Felton finding his gift, or the relationship side of it?
    I think the football story ends up being a way to get into the relationships.  Football is a trigger for Jerri, for Felton getting to know Cody, for Felton having the confidence to speak to Aleah.  Felton finding himself allows for the other things to happen.  So, it’s about both sides, but the important stuff is on the relationship side (Felton will one day grow old and not be Stupid Fast, but those relationships are lasting).
  • What authors do you recommend that write like you or about the same topics?
    I’m a big fan of John Green.  I haven’t read a lot of Chris Crutcher, but I’m on it!  I really enjoyed Gae Polisner’s The Pull of Gravity.  When I was a teen, I read Vision Quest by Terry Davis, which was the first book that showed me that sports topics can tell deeper stories.   Also, I watched the movie The Breakfast Club the other day and realized how hugely influenced I’ve been by 80s John Hughes movies.  Probably shouldn’t throw that in, huh?

** Win Geoff’s Debut!! **

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Payback Time by Carl Deuker

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.

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