"This book is a solid choice for reluctant readers who also happen to love football."--School Library Journal
Just when it seems that his football dreams are history, Wyatt's older brother, Aaron, makes an unexpected offer: If Wyatt ditches golf camp, he can play with Aaron in the League of Pain: the roughest and most secretive rogue football league in town.
Now Wyatt has a choice. He can play by the rules like he always does, or he can follow his heart—even if it means lying to the people he cares about the most.
But if Wyatt wants to play in the league, he must learn to accept the penalties.
About Thatcher Heldring
Growing up, sports and books were two major influences in my life. As a kid, I played a bit of everything: baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball–no football, however, which is fortunate, because then I might be in the NFL instead of writing books! Through sports, I gained confidence through success and learned through defeat that things would not always turn out the way I wanted them to. These lessons were as valuable as the lessons I learned through books, except the scrapes on my knees and elbows were mine. But now I am writing books about sports, and drawing on the memories of those scrapes every day.
Lucky for me, sports come with almost everything needed for a good story. Action, conflict, personal growth, and of course, the ultimate showdown–the championship. And there are so many points of view. A single game of basketball can be told a thousand different ways. How does it feel to be the star who gets all the glory, or bears all the blame? How does it feel to be the fan who would give anything for a win, but can do nothing to make it happen? Or the benchwarmer who just wants a shot? Or the referee? Or the coach? Or the cheerleader? They all come to the game hoping things will go their way, but on a good night, only half of them will go home happy. All of that drama can spill right onto the pages, keeping them turning right up until the last tick of the clock.
This is especially important in books where we want to see characters who aren’t perfect, who have to learn from their mistakes, and who become more complete as a result, win or lose. After all, who do we relate to most? The slugger who shatters the lights with a game-winning home run? Or the pitcher who gave it everything he had, but found out in the end that he was human?
And then there are the little moments that say so much.
In a soccer game, the ball deflects off the hand of a forward. The ref doesn’t see it. Seconds later, the forward scores a game-winning goal. The forward knows it was a hand ball. Should that change how he feels about the game? Late in the game, with his team up twenty, a basketball coach puts in his benchwarmer who starts shooting three-pointers. Is this running up the score? Or just one guy’s moment in sun?
Moments like those are what really drive a great sports book because how that character feels will give the reader a book full of information about him in just one scene. There might even be enough to predict how he will act in a similar situation off the field. A misgraded math test in his favor? Too much change at the grocery store? It goes on and on. The possibilities never end. Which makes me happy, because it means as long as there is time, there will always be another story to tell.
Gr 5-9–Wyatt Parker is an awkward eighth grader who gets picked on by bullies and told what to do by his parents; his older brother, Aaron; and even his best friend, Francis. During the summer between middle school and high school, he tries to convince his parents that playing recreational football would be a better idea than going to boring golf camp. He’s sick of being pushed around and wants to impress his crush-worthy neighbor. When they refuse to let him play, Aaron, a known troublemaker, makes Wyatt a deal he can’t refuse: if Wyatt ditches golf camp and keeps it a secret from their parents, Aaron will let him play in the “League of Pain,” a rough and dirty secret football league in their town. Heldring creates a believable story about one boy’s journey to find himself and make his own decisions. Although the plot develops slowly, at the halfway point the pace picks up. With its focus on bullying, a first crush, changing friendships, and coming of age, this book is a solid choice for reluctant readers who also happen to love football.–School, Library Journal
Heldring’s latest novel well conveys the allure of contact sports, particularly tackle football, and the appeal of evasive tactics, particularly lying to your parents. Of course, Heldring shows how lying fails Wyatt Parker in the end, but he also makes Wyatt’s actions understandable. Wyatt is introduced as a model eighth-grade student, but it’s the start of the summer, and he feels a need to prove himself. For too long, bigger kids have bothered, if not bullied, him, and although his parents are pushing him into golf camp, he’d rather play flag football. So, in a tale narrated by Wyatt in hindsight, he ditches golf camp to sneak off to his older brother’s secret football league. Wyatt’s deceit extends beyond his parents, but his desire to be part of a group, combined with the exhilaration of excelling at a team sport, helps him justify to himself what he’s doing. Heldring deftly shows how Wyatt figures out the differences between him and his brother as well as the great appeal of a clear conscience.--Booklist
A conscientious, undersized middle schooler decides he wants sports success even if it means lying about the secret league he joins.
Wyatt Parker has decided he is tired of being bullied, and he also wants his best buddy, girl-next-door Evan, to see him as more than a friend. The fact that she seems smitten with a high school quarterback reinforces the idea that playing football is the answer. His parents are supportive of sports: His older brother, Aaron, plays football. Wyatt, though, is small for his age, and they think the sport too dangerous, so his dad enrolls him in golf camp. Then his older brother lets him in on a secret football league with no adult supervision, where the hitting is fierce and only the toughest are welcome, including his school's biggest bully. In order to play, Wyatt will have to engage in the kind of deception that he hates. The more he becomes involved in the league, the more he changes, until his relationship with Evan is affected. This story weaves family issues with the role that sports plays for teens, especially in the transitional period leading to high school. Wyatt is a strong, multidimensional character, and the tension is palpable as he strives to keep his secret. Secondary characters are varied if not very developed early in the book.
The action scenes add a level of excitement that will keep sports fans reading.--Kirkus