Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Schemework Teamwork: Benchwarmers by John Feinstein

"Got cut, huh?" Arlow said. "I don't know why you bothered. The only reason you were even out there was that Block forced Coach J to let you try out. There was no way he was going to keep a girl on the team."

"Who told you that," Andi said, looking at the smirking Arlow.

"Coach told my dad," he said. "He also told him not to worry because you weren't going to make the team."

Now Andi was really angry. "I was good enough to be on the team and you know it," she said.

"We don't need anyone on the team who bursts into tears the minute things get tough, do we?" Arlo said.

"You see me crying, Arlow?" Andi said. "You were the biggest whiner out there."

Now that Merion Middle School has a sixth-grade soccer team, Jeff Michaels decides to try out, along with one girl who doesn't want to be relegated to field hockey, the only outdoor sport offered sixth-grade girls. Principal Block has no problem with a girl on the "boys'" sixth-grade team, but he defers to Coach Johnson, who believes a girl on the team will keep the boys from bonding.

Jeff thinks Coach J is being unfair, and he knows what to do about it. His dad is the top sports reporter on the local television station, and when he brings a full film crew to their first game, the story is picked up by the network and goes viral nationwide.

But It's not exactly a win for Andi, who, along with newcomer Jeff, is put on the team but relegated to riding the bench except for the five minutes mandated for all team members. But as the season progresses, Jeff's skills develop and Andi proves herself worthy, a player whose skills are clearly outstanding, but which also mesh well with those of superstar Arlow. Still, Coach J subs everyone fairly, except Jeff and Andi.
Jeff's crime was twofold. He was Andi's friend and his father's son.

Andi was different. She'd only done one thing wrong: being born a girl.

As the season moves on, Andi manages to get more playing time and continues to score and freely assists others in scoring, and as they approach the playoffs, Coach J is forced to reconsider his opinion on girls and soccer. In the hands of the best-selling sports writer and novelist John Feinstein, his recent Benchwarmers (The Benchwarmers Series)(Farrar Strous Giroux, 2019) features his trademark mix of exciting gameplay, believable dialogue (eschewing profanity) and a wide range of characters, from the burly bully Arlow to the game Jeff and the tenacious Andi. A solid sports novel by a top-selling author of fiction and nonfiction for adults and middle readers with plenty for both girls and boys to enjoy. Says Booklist,"...engaging characters and ... in-depth play-by-play sports action that results in a fun, fast-paced story that will appeal to readers who can't get enough sports fiction."

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