It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. Grantland Rice
If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score? Vince Lombardi
Yes, for college sports, most would say the above "Rice" quote is outdated but what about high school sports? For the Shooting Star football coach McPherson, "Winning is the Thing." Has the Lombardi philosophy filtered down? Are too many high school coaches Lombardi "wannabes"? Are they inculcating their players with the same "winning is the only thing" philosophy? Author McKissack thinks so and the effects are not positive. And when you throw in community pressure and college scholarships at stake, forget playing for fun, calling it just a game, or instilling sportsmanship or fair play.
YA sports fiction is roughly pigeonholed into two camps. There is the traditional but still exciting and inspirational story of making the team, overcoming adversity, and winning the big game. What is there not to like? However, many recent sports novels are no longer content or satisfied with just white helmets versus black helmets. Fiction mirrors the headlines. Social issues including prejudice, sexual harassment, broken family life, drugs or, in other words, dimensions off the field are being highlighted or even dominate the sports story. Critics and teen readers are expecting and demanding a more realistic and complete treatment of school athletics. Perhaps,YA writers want to be taken more seriously. Consider Lipsyte's 2005 Raiders Night, Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (2006), Tim Tharp's Knights Of Hill Country (2006), and Gym Candy (2007) by Deuker. It's a long way from the old "Fullback Fury" books.
Jomo Rogers, the main character, has a problem: "Jomo had watched his best friend blow up big-time...Jayson was already five foot eleven inches and 185 pounds...He was superman compared to Jomo's five-foot-eight-inch, 150 pound Jimmy Olsen frame...." Jomo also has another problem. To him, football is more important than anything else -- thus his worth as an individual is defined by his gridiron performance. Unfortunately, the solution he chooses is steroids. The author effectively and dramatically portrays the gradual trade off of gaining physical bulk for increased aggression and erratic behavior. Although cursing and the "F" word in print are distracting to my generation of readers, the "Z" generation or even "Y" probably expect it and consider dialog without it as phony. Profanity does reverberate throughout today's school hallways, locker rooms and playing fields.
Why the prevalence of steroids in sports? Because they work! However, Jomo's dramatic gridiron success comes with a high price. His lose of control both on and off the field escalates in intensity. By the end of the book his life is a shambles--no happy ending here. Can he recover? All he can do is accept the consequences and try to rebuild his life.
Shooting Star (2009) is a flashing warning to every young athlete tempted to try or use steroids. Adults are aware of the destructive effects of steroids but what teen will listen to us? If young adults read this book, lecturing by parents might not be necessary!
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, Librarian.
Mature readers: Some language 288 pages Ages 14 and up