Gutless by Carl Deuker
Around our house, the division of labor is much less gender-specific than is the division of entertainment, particularly in the autumn. Beginning in September, my husband watches televised football every Sunday, while I try to be anywhere else. (Don’t hate me for this, Seattle football fans, but what I most admire about the Seahawks is Pete Carroll’s hair.)
But the tables were turned at least somewhat this week when I read a new young adult novel by Seattle author Carl Deuker. The cover of “Gutless” shows a teen wearing a football helmet, and the story is about a kid who has plenty of athletic talent, but an aversion to confrontation – both physical and emotional. Brock Ripley practices avoidance at any cost.
It is the summer before his freshman year at Crown Hill High, and Brock’s most fervent goal, like the rest of his friends, is simply to fit in at school.
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But one day when he is at the park playing soccer with friends, he’s tapped to act as a wide receiver while the star quarterback at Crown Hill practices long passes under his dad’s tutelage. Hunter Gates has serious potential to be recruited by a good college, and his dad, Bill Gates (“not that Bill Gates”) is very involved in his son’s training. But a quarterback needs someone to pass to, and all of the starting receivers on last year’s varsity team have graduated.
It turns out that Brock has a real knack for catching balls in practice, and although he has never turned out for football before, he is persuaded by Bill Gates to join the football team. There’s just one problem: the game of football involves tackling the guy who has the ball and, to his own dismay, Brock finds himself doing just about anything to avoid getting hit.
There are other strands to the story: Richie Fang is the new kid in school. A Chinese immigrant, and a standout in music, math and chess, Richie has never fit in with the crowd. But he has learned to rock his identity, perpetually cracking bad jokes and loudly proclaiming that people should “Fear the Fang.”
He’s the antithesis of this story’s protagonist, yet unbidden, Richie attaches himself to Brock. It turns out that the boys do have something in common – each has a chronically ill parent.
Deuker, a former schoolteacher, has written several YA sports novels, and always makes a point of tackling issues in the game of life as well as on the court or field. In “Gutless,” he blends plenty of play-by-play football and soccer action with issues of sportsmanship, xenophobia, school bullying and even mortality.
As with his other books, he captures the tumultuous essence of teen life, from the angst and painful lessons, to the humor and thrilling moments.
And as the mother of a teen, I appreciated (with a pang) Deuker’s portrayal of the way teens feel – disillusioned, resentful, smug – when they realize the fallibility of the grown-ups in their lives.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org