This book is the chronicle of one season for a high school football team in a small town in western Kansas. While that may not sound too enticing to some readers, there's in fact quite a bit going on in this book that elevates it into the category of pretty darn good sports literature. Even readers who don't have much interest in football, or high schools, or even Kansas may find a lot to like here.
Smith Center sounds like a fairly average rural farming community. What makes them stand out, however, is the Redmen, their local high school football team. When New York Times reporter Joe Drape begins telling their story, the Redmen are preparing to begin a new season, one they hope will end with the team's winning its fifth consecutive state championship title and maintaining an undefeated streak lasting just as long. There's some question, though, whether the current crop of seniors are good enough, and unified enough, to maintain the standards set by their predecessors. Is this the year when everything goes bust?
Joe Drape tells a good story, one that reminded me more than once of Stefan Fatsis' Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland about the impact of sports loyalties on small mid-western towns. "Our Boys" has that to an even greater extent, though, because the while the fabled Smith Center Redmen have a statewide reputation for fearsome football, they're still -- as Drape makes clear -- a bunch of kids. It'd be too easy to label this "a coming of age story," but there's certainly some of this here. It's also a look at the impact a good coach can have on a community, a school, and, again, a bunch of kids.
There are any number of ways a story could have gone adrift, and Drape has skillfully avoided them. There is a lot of football here, to be sure, but "Our Boys" is not a play-by-play almanac of practices and games. We get to know players, coaches, and families, but our look at them is respectful and appropriate, not voyeuristic. Best of all, perhaps, Drape resists the temptation to make "Our Boys" any sort of allegory about the crisis in family farming, the decline of the rural way of life, the tension between athletics and academics, or any of the other Big Issues you might expect a New York Times writer to flirt with. This is a story of a team and the community that surrounds and supports it. It's straightforward, well-written and insightful, and by the end of the season you might even find you have a bit of an emotional connection to the Redmen yourself. Nicely done.
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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers (Cascadian)
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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