I am happy to participate in this new meme, recently started by the Styling Librarian
I thought I knew all about Tim Green. To be honest, I have only read a few of his books, but I know he’s one of the go-to-guys for engaging and fast-paced play-by-play sports action. I know that his stories concern more than just what happens on the field and are populated with smart, likable characters who meet life’s challenges head-on and with heart. I know that many of my students, especially boys, count him among their favorite authors and beam at every new book. Still, if I had to sum up Tim Green’s books for kids, I would say they are sports books.
Even though Perfect Season just came out (and I won an autographed copy in Green’s Facebook contest–woot!), I decided to read Unstoppable this past week. I don’t always read reviews, summaries, or dust jacket flaps before tackling a book–sometimes I go in cold. And I did that with this one.
“Huh, that’s different,” I thought, when the book started with Harrison, a foster kid living on a farm who doesn’t play sports–only watches snippets of NFL games on TV. The abuse Harrison suffers at the hands of his foster parents is horrifying. And it has created within Harrison such a mix of emotions: fear, helplessness, hatred, guilt. Green does a remarkable job of dealing with the complexities of abuse, the foster care system and parental rights.
After Harrison’s ordeal comes to an end, he is placed with new foster parents, Coach and Jennifer, who provide him with the loving home he has been missing and give him the opportunity to try football for the very first time. All is not roses, as Harrison’s adjustment to his new life is gradual and has its ups and downs. And although he quickly proves to be the best player on his junior high team, he also has jealous, cruel bullies with whom to contend.
“Unstoppable…,” I thought, “I get it. No one can bring him down on the field and he doesn’t let the jerks in this world get to him (too much).” When a fellow teammate (bully) purposefully takes out Harrison’s knee during practice, I was prepared for a story about physical rehab fraught with some nervousness about whether Harrison would play in the championship game, And then, BAM! The MRI shows that Harrison has bone cancer, they amputate his leg below the knee, and he is facing chemotherapy and a long road to (hopefully) recovery. Surely, he will never play football again…or will he?
Green completely changes the idea of “unstoppable” for readers right there. Now instead of worrying about taunts and teases, a pretty girl and playing time, Harrison endures nausea and despair, hair loss and phantom pains. He is inspired by “the major,” Coach’s old soldier buddy, who helps with his rehabilitation and use of his prosthetic leg, and Marty, his roommate during chemo treatments, who is far sicker than Harrison but loves life and has a beautiful attitude. Realistically, just when things are going well for Harrison, he suffers setbacks. Yes, Harrison is unstoppable, and Green gives him huge challenges that make him worthy of the title.
At the book’s end, Green notes that his wife, Ilyssa, is a cancer survivor. So is Jeffrey Keith, a talented athlete Green met, who lost his leg to cancer and went on to play Division 1 lacrosse at Boston College. He wrote the book with them in mind. And wrote it oh so well.
And so now I (and you) know quite a bit more about Tim Green. He does not write sports books with people in them. He writes people books with sports in them. And that has made all the difference.