High school senior Jonas Dolan is a point guard phenom whose athletic star is on the rise. When his family moves to Seattle, following his father’s new job, Jonas is glad to meet Levi, a nice, soft-spoken guy and fellow basketball player. Plus, his charismatic new couch Ryan Hartwell is there to help him–“If you get enough swagger going, you can make your own rules,” he advises. But Jonas and Levi are about to understand all too well the imbalance of power in a teen’s life. This same well-liked coach is the center of the nightmare that takes over their lives, a nightmare that will ultimately force Jonas to make an unthinkable choice.
All this started about a year and a half ago. Back then I was a junior at Redwood High in Redwood City, a suburb twenty-five miles south of San Francisco. In those days, before Hartwell, before Levi, I took things as they came without thinking a whole lot about them. Maybe that’s because most of the things that came my way were good.
—ARC paperback edition
Jonas Dolan is a shockingly levelheaded kid when it comes to following his heart, the truth, and his dreams. It is easy to understand how Jonas and his friends are seduced into less than stellar situations, including watching R-rated movies, drinking beer, and cheating. When Levi entrusts Jonas with the secret of Hartwell’s sexual abuse, he starts to question the effervescent young coach.
Something that readers who are abuse survivors will appreciate is how subtly Levi shares his trauma with Jonas. Where other novels might languish in all the gory details for shock value, Levi’s religious, child-like nature–he can’t even say ‘damn’ as one character later points out—allow him to remind us that he is a person who has been through a terrible tragedy, and not the act itself. While Levi struggles with that point, it is never anything Jonas questions. Levi’s sexuality is never marked because of how an adult corrupted his innocence.
The many supportive, caring adults, contrasting with Hartwell, stand as sharp positives to Jonas and Levi’s story. Equally Levi’s oldest sister is a well-developed, strongly defined character who could have used even more face time.
Appropriate for ages 13+. Contains mild alcohol use, sexual situations, some strong language, and intense situations. Deals with friendship, family, secrets, sportsmanship, honesty and integrity, sexuality, abuse of power and authority, and death.
Readers would benefit from further discussion on sexual assault, and how men and women can both be targets and perpetrators of abuse. Jonas’s story remind us all that adults in positions of responsibility only maintain respect and trust as long as they continue to deserve it.
GET IT ON YOUR SHELF:
– Enjoy edgy, ripped-from-the-headlines plots
– Want a tough topic handled with respect and hopefulness
– Have ever held a friend’s secret
– Are a fan of sports tales
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published November 5th, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (ISBN 0547974590)
(Review copy provided by Roshan Nozari at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Cover illustration courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.)