Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy Book Review

Over The End Line, by Alfred C. Martino

As a long-time soccer fan, I picked up this book expecting to get a good read about the boys on a high school soccer team. This is a strong sports and life story, told by Duncan, a better than average player, but not a star. The book delivered that, along with lessons on rivalries, first loves and the discovery that you hero has feet of clay.

Over the end line began on a strong hook that promised a good mystery. We learn quickly that something horrible has happened, and know that Jonny Fehey, the protagonist, has witnessed a horrific crime and now needs to act. My problem with the novel began when I turned the page, expecting to find more, and instead found myself deposited in the past, months before the inciting incident. The pace slowed as characters were introduced and the relationships between the young men on the team were established. We meet Kyle, Johnny’s best friend, hero and rival for position as team star, Erik, the evil bully everyone on the team looks down on but continues to tolerate, and the girls who end up being stronger than any of the guys imagine. But I kept turning pages, wondering when we would get to the good part. By the time we finally returned to the present and reached the moment when Johnny unwittingly witnesses a horrific crime, what should have been a strong scene was almost a let-down.

The crime Jonny witnesses occurs about three quarters of the way through the book. The day he scores a game-winning goal that propels him into stardom, he gets too drunk to do anything except witness his girlfriend's rape by Erik and Kyle. From then on the suspense escalates as Jonny struggles with the returning memory of what happened that night and what he should do with that knowledge. As his girlfriend struggles with suicide, he confronts his teammates and the girl's best friends in separate showdowns that lead to additional tragedies and deaths and a victim’s need for vengeance.

The last pages are fast-paced, but very rough on the reader, and the ending both unexpected and harsh. There is no happy ending in this story. Just realistic people who make mistakes and have to pay for those mistakes, sometimes with their lives. And maybe that is the book's ultimate weakness for me. Jonny was no hero, but he was not a villain, either, just weak, so I didn’t the punishment he endured for his punishment deserved and left the book feeling cheated.

Will boys like reading this - I think so. There is good action, insight into tghe world of a soccer, male bonding, and some interesting scenes on the relationship between Duncan and girls. But they will have to be willing to get past the slow beginning to reach the "good stuff."

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