>Gordon Korman has gone a little “Chris Crutcher” on us. I intend this as high praise. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I love Crutcher’s gritty, realistic work. Korman’s latest offering, Pop, is a young adult novel you will find reasons to read, even when the grass is waiting, the kids are hungry, and grading loses patience.
Marcus Jordan, a soon-to-be high school junior, has moved to a new town in the middle of summer. He really has no opportunity to make new friends, so he does what comes naturally – he heads to Three Alarm Park and throws pass after pass through a round picture frame hanging from a tree branch. Marcus is a quarterback, and he has set his sights on joining the town’s undefeated, state champion team. You can’t blame the team when it doesn’t extend its arms; they don’t want to mess with perfection. Marcus doesn’t abandon hope. He meets Charlie, a 50-ish former footballer, while practicing one day. Charlie takes Marcus under his wing, working on hitting and other football skills. But something is not quite right about Charlie. He comes and goes, never explaining. Charlie has the mentality of a teenager. He pulls pranks on local businesses and loves to play, but he disappears as quickly as he appears. Something’s not quite right.
Markus eventually works his way on to the team; he breaks into the lineup by playing in the defensive backfield. Then, he works his way to fullback, always placing the team above his desire to be the quarterback. But something is not quire right with the quarterback. He avoids contact like no other football player you’ve seen. When Markus finds out Charlie is the quarterback’s father, he’s astounded. He wonders how the son of a former NFL football player who loves to hit could have a son who wants nothing more than to avoid contact. As Markus digs deeper, the reasons become obvious.
Pop goes beyond the typical young adult novel by exploring an issue with youth football that no one cares to discuss – the debilitating effects of head trauma. As football reaches its tentacles toward younger players, the issue Korman explores becomes even more critical. Every parent, youth coach, and youth player should read this book. The content is research-based and startling. Should kids, or anyone for that matter, be exposed to sports-related head trauma? You might change your mind after reading the book.