Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Way You Play The Game: Game Change by Joseph Monninger

Later, in the week that followed, Zeb Holloway watched the injury again and again. T.T. Monroe, the finest quarterback ever to play for Rumney High School in Grafton County, New Hampshire, turned the corner on an option play in the last minutes of their win over Hampton, and Zeb knew something had to give.

Zeb had turned halfway to check the college scouts in the stands, the ones who came to watch T.T. and see him pull off yet another spectacular run or pass--he was a highlight reel--and by the time Zeb pulled his eyes back, he caught merely the end of T.T.'s leg buckling under him, heard the bone snap, heard T.T. scream like a fox.

And in that moment Zeb's life changes. Zeb is the stolid back-up quarterback, the guy with the strong, dependable arm, but no speed, the guy who has warmed the bench all year without making a play, who is now the quarterback for a team going into the state championship game. T.T.'s cheerleader girlfriend Stella seems ready to switch her affections to the new quarterback, and Zeb, a low-profile, just okay student, is the new town celebrity.

Now the hopes and ambitions of his small, struggling town are pinned on him. It's his chance to be a home-town hero, the golden boy of Rumney, New Hampshire. Zeb knows he can throw better passes than T.T., but he also knows he can't pull off the thrilling moves and heart-stopping option plays that T.T. gave the fans and the media week after week. Will Zeb get the girl and, against all odds, win the game and go on to football fame?

That's the stuff of many a YA sports novel, but not this one.

Joseph Monninger's Game Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)  is a better novel than that, giving Zeb Holloway more than just a big game-day win. At first Zeb takes on the leadership role reluctantly, but there's no one else but a third-string sophomore quarterback on the team. It's down to him, pure and simple.

In that Thanksgiving week before the championship game, a lot happens in Zeb's life. He gets a call from a college in Kansas looking for a quarterback with a solid, long-ball arm, and for the first time, realizes that he can have a life beyond Rumney. He sees that the glam Stella is not for him and begins a promising relationship with a girl who admits she had a crush on him since second grade, and as he faces the game, he realizes for the first time that his mom, Coach K, his Uncle Pushee, all the hard-scrabble adults around him are doing what he now has to do--do the best he can with what he's got. Zeb runs into an opposition line so aggressive that he can barely get a pass off before he's hit. But he throws one beaut of a long touchdown pass, he doesn't fumble, and he doesn't throw an interception. His team loses, but it's an honorable loss, and Zeb realizes that he's got what it takes to throw the long ball and maybe make it through the long haul.

Football as metaphor for life is not a new trope for authors, but Zeb's is a coming-of-age story which offers a protagonist whose character grows as he faces a life-changing moment and makes it through it with honor and hope. Monninger's writing is honest and straightforward, with no thrills in the ending, no frills, like his character, but one that young adult readers will like and understand. Winning is great, but in life, a lot of the throws go long, and in the end, it is the way you play the game.

Good game, Joseph Monninger.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home