I am not a sports fan. To this day, I have gut-clenching flashbacks to a humiliating softball tryout in middle school, a tryout that typified my relationships with most sports. I will not bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that sports books hold almost no attraction for me.
BUT, I am a good librarian, so it’s important to me to be able to connect kids with good books, even when their tastes differ from mine. So, when I saw Stealing the Game on the new books shelf I gritted my teeth and checked it out. I have given myself permission to put down books that I dislike, so it couldn’t hurt, right? Still, it went right to the bottom of the stack until it worked its way up to the top and I sighed and picked it up.
It almost pains me to say that I liked it. I liked it a lot.
It doesn’t hurt that, like sports movies, sports books are seldom about sports. They’re really about picking yourself up after defeat, working toward common goals, and pushing yourself to be the best. They’re about life and relationships. Now, if only I could remember that the next time I cringe before picking up a sports book.
Middle-schooler Chris loves basketball. He’s perfected the art of being the strong, silent type, and even his parents don’t know how much he loves English and how he harbors a secret desire to be a master thief and comic book artist. He’s used to always being the second best behind his straight-A, sports star, Mr. Popularity, big brother Jax.
Then, Jax comes home from college. He’s dropped out of Stanford and seems to be in a downward spiral, drinking and gambling. Chris wants to help his brother, but he’s uncomfortable with the secrets and lies. Still, he’s a canny strategist and quickly becoming a first rate detective as he tries to figure out what’s going on with his brother, not to mention the rash of local burglaries. Now, if he could only figure out Brooke—the girl he really likes in school!
While there IS basketball throughout the book, it is by no means the central theme. Chris is complicated and believable. There are interesting side issues, like designer babies (Chris was born to save his brother’s life), shoplifting, and gambling. A surprise twist at the end caught me completely off guard, and there were a few laugh-out-loud moments for me. Obviously, you could put this in the hands of any kid who liked sports, but it would also appeal to kids with helicopter parents, quiet kids, or kids who like mysteries.