The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR 5 Review #24: The Final Four

It’s time for some turbo-charged book reviews, complete with recommendations for those who care for them. They’ll be up here day by day, or if you want to gorge yourself check out my separate blog

For those who wish Matt Christopher wrote about bigger stages: The Final Four

When I was a kid the biggest thing going in boys literature (for those too squeamish for Goosebumps), was Matt Christopher’s interminable series of books about young boys going out for a local sports team and trying to win a local championship and…well…doing it.

I loved books then, I love books now. I loved sports then, and I love sports now. But I outgrew Matt Christopher in about 4th grade. Still, I was intrigued when one of my students cracked open Paul Volponi’s book one day after my class. It had all the trappings of a regular sports novel with a grander sensibility: forget the local kid and the local game and the local problem, let’s deal with the Final Four, let’s deal with money and war and fame and power and romance and the media.

Part of Volponi’s work captures those principles well, in particular his central protagonists (a pair of point guards with tragic histories but totally different mindsets) give voice to a set of sincere concerns about injustices done to “student athletes” and law abiding citizens. It’s clear which of the two most people would root for, but it’s also clear that the less-likable player has understandable reasons for his behavior.

It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the other half of Volponi’s book is given over to “role-player” characters who balance out the stars, but offer very little depth to the situation instead hitting on those old sports book tropes (getting-the-girl and rising-to-the-occasion respectively). Sadder still, the descriptions of the game are accurate but not terribly riveting (despite the fact that the game goes into quadruple overtime).

I admire Volponi’s effort, but I hope that there’s a way to write about those bigger stages without succumbing to the long standing tropes we nerdy sports fans already know.

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