Gut Check

Farrar. Aug. 2019. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374307622.
Gr 8 Up–In the fishing town of Grayport, only two things matter: having a blue-collar sense of toughness, and football. Which is why making the team is so important to Wyatt Parker. That, and it’s his only chance to bond with his brother Brett, the star quarterback. When Brett suffers a concussion during a game, he begs Wyatt not to tell and ruin his chance to play in a televised game against Grayport’s rival team. It’s the only chance the team has to win and help the town recover from a resurgence of red tide. Wyatt struggles with the impossible conundrum of deciding what’s more important: saving his brother from a potentially irreversible injury or saving Grayport from even more hardship. Tough topics such as body image, poverty, and bravery are treated with equal parts humor and sincerity. Wyatt’s self-deprecating wit is used as a shield from a seemingly distant older brother, an alcoholic father, and a football team fueled by toxic masculinity. The author deftly paints a clear picture of Grayport as a worn-down coastal town, which creates a perfect backdrop for the story. The football stadium itself is set on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean and Wyatt describes hearing the ocean waves crash against a stone embankment “like a communal heartbeat...defiant and surviving despite it all.”
VERDICT Even though the conflict resolution seems a bit pat, Kester’s debut novel will strike a chord with teens. Give to fans of Mike Lupica or Carl Hiassen

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