RIVALS BY TOMMY GREENWALD
“Everyone thinks it must be totally awesome to be so good at something, and sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s the greatest feeling in the world. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s too much. Too much attention, too much pressure, too many expectations. I mean, look what happened with the cheating thing – I don’t even love basketball that much, but even so, I did, like, this really dumb thing because I thought I had to. I literally thought it was the only choice, that if I couldn’t play basketball then everything would be ruined. I mean, I like basketball, I really do. Maybe I even love it. But sometimes it felt like I had to LIVE it. And I didn’t want that.”
Tommy Greenwald’s newest release, Rivals, takes us back to the town of Walthorne, but this time readers are embedded in the across-town rivalry between the north and the south middle schools. Based on the real-life experience of watching his son play basketball, Greenwald’s story serves as a warning of what happens when sports become something they were never meant to be for a kid: their job.
Once again using different formats students loved in Game Changer: social media posts, interview transcripts, newspaper articles, and flashbacks, this story is both powerful and relevant. Two young basketball players used to meet up on Saturday mornings and love every second they were on the court. Fast forward a few years, and we have Austin Chambers, from the north, who is so busy trying to live up to his parents’ expectations of him to be the best player, he impulsively jeopardizes the safety of a teammate. The other young player, Carter Haswell, from the south, is trying to perform under the pressure that his athletic ability is his ticket out of financial hardship, and makes a risky decision that could cost him more than just his place on the team.
Interspersed throughout the story we hear the voices of many young students caught up in the “win at all costs” mentality that is pervasive in youth sport culture and shows us who really loses out: the kids. While I recommend this title for many readers – sports fans, realistic fiction fans, readers who like a page turner they can’t put down, readers who recognize the impact of social media – I also recommend it to their parents. The message of this author is one we can all learn from.