Fantasy Leagueby Mike Lupica
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of HEAT, TRAVEL TEAM and MILLION-DOLLAR THROW comes a story of every football kid’s dream come true.
12-year-old Charlie is a fantasy football guru. He may be just a bench warmer for his school's football team, but when it comes to knowing and loving the game, he's first-string. He even/b>/i>
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of HEAT, TRAVEL TEAM and MILLION-DOLLAR THROW comes a story of every football kid’s dream come true.
12-year-old Charlie is a fantasy football guru. He may be just a bench warmer for his school's football team, but when it comes to knowing and loving the game, he's first-string. He even becomes a celebrity when his podcast gets noticed by a sports radio host, who plays Charlie's fantasy picks for all of Los Angeles to hear. Soon Charlie befriends the elderly owner of the L.A. Bulldogs a fictional NFL team and convinces him to take a chance on an aging quarterback. After that, watch out . . . it's press conferences and national fame as Charlie becomes a media curiosity and source of conflict for the Bulldogs general manager, whose job Charlie seems to have taken. It's all a bit much for a kid just trying to stay on top of his grades and maintain his friendship with his verbal sparring partner, Anna.
Like the best Disney film in book form, like Moneyball for kids, Fantasy League is every football kid's dream scenario.
“Lupica is the greatest sports writer for middle school readers.” –VOYA
Gr 5 Up—Charlie "The Brain" Gaines may be an average seventh grader in most respects, but he possesses an uncanny knowledge about football teams and a sixth sense about game strategy. A so-so linebacker for his own Pop Warner team, the Culver City Cardinals, Charlie would much rather be on the sidelines, calling plays along with the coach. Best friend Anna Bretton shares Charlie's passion for football, as it is in her blood—her grandfather and uncle own and manage the Los Angeles Bulldogs. She invites Charlie to meet Grandpa Joe and Uncle Matt at a game, and it isn't long before Gramps is captivated by Charlie's commentary. His advice to replace the quarterback with an older and relatively unknown player named Tom Pinkett helps to turn around their losing record. Signing Pinkett to the team turns out to be a winning idea, and when word gets out that the call was made by a 12-year-old, Charlie is hounded by the media and thrust into a spotlight he isn't sure how to handle. Nearly losing his friendship with Anna, Charlie learns a lesson about fame and valuing relationships. Tension soars when Joe Warren falls ill, and readers will be alternately cheering and reaching for a tissue during the final playoff-deciding game for the Bulldogs. This will be devoured by young football fans, who appreciate intricate game details and won't mind a touch of heartwarming sentiment.—Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland
Wish fulfillment is the order of the day in Lupica's latest. Charlie "The Brain" Gaines has an uncanny knack with fantasy-football leagues. Though he lacks the skill to be a standout player on the field, when it comes to his favorite game, no one is a better strategist. No one. Including the professionals. So when Charlie's best friend and football buddy, Anna, introduces him to her grandfather Joe Warren, Charlie can't help sharing a bit of insight. You see, Joe Warren happens to own the local football team, the L.A. Bulldogs, and the Bulldogs happen to have a crummy record, and that means they happen to crave advice, even if it comes from a mediocre middle school football player. Lupica plays the "what if" game to posit the notion of a brilliant football mind trapped inside a youthful body. The ploy falls decidedly short, as Charlie's level of football understanding and insight render him something of a savant. Charlie is far more at ease with football jargon than most middle-grade readers could hope to be. Expert-level dissection of football mixes with the melodrama of a fatherless boy's growing attachment to a team owner to contrive an uneven pace. Lacking the intensity of a sustained drive or the urgency of a fourth-and-long play, the story offers more the feeling of trailing an opponent and deciding to sit on the ball until halftime. (Fiction. 10-14)
Charlie is a 12-year-old fantasy football savant whose great rep for gridiron picks runs away with him. At first, this good-hearted seventh-grader is just a kid who follows the game closer; before long, he becomes famous, touted as a pint-sized exemplar by a local radio show host. Charlie is thrilled when his best friend (and possible crush) Anna introduces him to a real-life N.F.L. owner, but things get a little muddled when the L.A. Bulldogs head honcho starts tapping him for player tipsand they work! An entertaining football romp from the master of young readers sports novels; now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.
* "This Moneyball story with kids is on the money."–Booklist, starred review
"Fantasy League . . . is the feel good book of the year."–VOYA
"This will be devoured by young football fans, who appreciate intricate game details and won’t mind a touch of heartwarming sentiment."–School Library Journal
Mike Lupica has been named to 70 state awards lists, including multiple Texas Bluebonnet Award nominations.
Read an Excerpt
Here was Charlie Gaines, king of the pro football fantasy leagues even at the age of twelve, not just watching the second preseason game for the Bengals and Giants as much as studying it.
His mom had come in a few minutes ago and said, “I can’t tell, are you watching the game or searching for clues?”
As soon as she’d come in, he’d paused the screen, freezing on the Giants’ rookie quarterback out of Ohio State, Rex Tuttle, as he dropped back into shotgun formation.
“I’m not distracting you, am I?” she’d said. Charlie had turned, saw her smiling at him, both of them knowing what his answer was going to be.
“Yes,” he’d said.
“Talk to you after the Super Bowl in February,” she’d said, and left.
Charlie had the remote on one side of him on the bed, laptop on the other. He pointed the remote. The game came back to life, the announcers’ voices came back into his room.
All the company he needed when there was a game on, Charlie happy being alone with football. Good at it. He really preferred watching the games alone unless he was watching with his friend Anna, the only person he knew who loved football as much as he did.
But then Anna’s family actually owned a team.
It was different with Charlie Gaines; he felt as if the whole league belonged to him, the players and their stats and where they were in their careers and how much Charlie projected they had left in them. Sometimes his mom said that when he dropped his backpack on the table in the front hall, she expected decimal points to come spilling out.
“How many leagues are you in this season?” she’d said at dinner that night.
Meaning fantasy leagues.
“Just counting mine?” he’d said. “Or all the ones I help my friends with?”
She’d given him a long look. “You still have time for real life, right?”
Real life to his mom meant three things: friends and school. And his own football team in Pop Warner.
“Mom,” he said, “I know you think sometimes that I’ve turned into some kind of football geek, that it’s all I think about or talk about. But last year I had my best year ever at school. And you know I’ve got all the friends I could want from school.”
“I’m allowed to worry about my guy,” Karla Gaines said to her son. “It’s what moms do. If we didn’t have worrying, we’d have to do more yoga.”
“I’m fine,” he’d said. “And by the way? How can you worry about me and fantasy leagues when you’re the one working in what you call the world of make-believe?”
They lived in Culver City, California, where Sony Studios was located. His mom worked there as an executive assistant for one of the top production guys, still believing she was going to be a movie producer herself someday, constantly on the lookout for what she called the “right script.” He’d asked her once if she’d rather have the right script or the right man, having divorced Charlie’s dad a long time ago.
“Script," she'd answered. "If it’s the right one, it doesn’t leave.”
At dinner tonight she’d said, “I just want your life to be great, pal.”
“It is,” Charlie Gaines had told her. Grinning. “How can it not be great? It’s football season.”
Most football fans thought the preseason was a waste of time. You hardly got to see the best players, and coaches were afraid of getting their stars hurt before they ever got anywhere near September.
Charlie didn’t care, he loved it all.
It was football season again. From August all the way through the Super Bowl in February, it was when he was happiest, when his life felt great.
He didn’t have to watch tonight’s game alone. He could have invited Anna over, but he was going over to her house tomorrow night to watch her team—and his—the L.A. Bulldogs play the Bears in Chicago. Or he could have invited one of his boys, Kevin Fallon, to come over—Kevin lived only two blocks away. The only problem with that was Kevin loved doing his own play-by-play of the game; he hardly ever shut up.
It was better with Anna. She focused on games, especially Bulldogs games, the way he did. Maybe it was why she knew more about the sport than any guy Charlie knew, certainly any guy their age.
Any guy except for Charlie.
Charlie Gaines knew real games the way his friends knew video games. And wished that Anna’s uncle, the general manager of the Bulldogs, knew the league that well. Or at least better than he did.
The Bulldogs were an expansion team still playing like one four years after they’d brought pro football back to Los Angeles. They were so bad, still not managing to have won more than four games in a season, that the sportswriters and the bloggers and the radio hosts and the fans on Twitter liked to say that pro football still hadn’t come back to L.A.
But as pathetic as they were, Charlie loved them. Not because he had to the way Anna did, but for the only reason that mattered in sports, or had ever mattered: They were his first team. And they were going to stay his team, even though they weren’t getting any better looked like they might never get better. There would be Sundays barely a month into the season when Bulldogs stadium would be half-full.
One of Charlie’s football fantasies? That someday Bulldogs Stadium would be totally full, of noise and excitement, for a big game at the end of the season, instead of just playing out the string.
The other day Charlie had read a review by one of the sports columnists in the Los Angeles Times, read it because he read everything about the Bulldogs no matter how bad it was. And it was bad, the columnist writing about Joe Warren, Anna’s grandfather, the owner of the team. And her uncle Matt, the team’s general manager. They were about as popular in L.A. heading into another season as traffic.
The Bulldogs were named after an old independent team out of the city’s football past, the L.A. Bulldogs of the 1930s. Charlie had read up on them and everything else that had ever happened in pro football in L.A. until the Rams left for St. Louis.
So he knew that the NFL had thought about bringing the league to the city when the first Bulldogs were playing, but found out that teams from the east and the Midwest didn’t want to take trains all the way across country to play a game, even if they were only coming from Chicago, which Charlie knew used to have two teams and not just one. And cross-country flights were still sketchy in those days. So the city didn’t get a team until the Rams in 1946, and then didn’t have one for nearly twenty years after the Rams left in 1994.
Now they had the brand-spanking-new L.A. Bulldogs. Except that wasn’t what most people called them now.
People had taken to calling them the L.A. Dogs.
They either drafted or traded for the wrong players, or signed the wrong free agents. They did this as consistently as Charlie Gaines would pick the right players in his fantasy leagues.
That column in the Times said that one of the reasons fantasy football was so wildly popular in Los Angeles is because any kind of fantasy ball was better than the grim reality of the L.A. Dogs.
Charlie Gaines still loved both.
He’d read somewhere that fantasy football was at least seventy-five percent luck, people comparing it to playing blackjack, saying that you could have your system all you wanted, but the game still came down to what cards the dealer turned over. Maybe that was true. Charlie was fine with the element of luck—what happened on the field after you’d made your calls on which players you drafted and which ones you might slot in on a given Sunday or Monday.
He’d take his chances with the twenty-five percent that wasn’t luck. Then it did feel like a video game to him, like he was playing Madden not just against a friend, but against a whole fantasy league.
And he was the one with the controller in his hands. Controlling it like a champ.
Then it was all about brains and study and hard work. About searching for clues, even if you had to go back into the past looking for them. And maybe something else, too, what Charlie’s buddy Kevin Fallon called Charlie’s “gift.” When Kevin would say that, Charlie would tell him it sounded like something he’d unwrap on Christmas or on his birthday.
Kevin would come back at him: “You know what I mean. It’s why I call you Brain.”
Charlie and Kevin went to Culver City Middle School—getting ready to start the seventh grade in a few weeks—and played football together for the Culver City Cardinals in Pop Warner. Kevin was the team’s star running back, already talking about being in the backfield for USC or UCLA or Stanford someday. Charlie? As much as he loved football, Charlie pretty much thought of himself as a scrub. Backup linebacker last season, probably a backup linebacker this season. Special teams player, which he told Kevin was misleading, since there was nothing special about his game.
One time Kevin, being serious, asked Charlie what he thought his best position was and Charlie had said, “Blocked.” This was when they were playing sixth grade football. Charlie spent a lot of time on the sideline standing next to their coaches. Occasionally he’d have the nerve to point out something he thought they’d missed. But mostly he was there to study them. See what they were seeing. And what he might be missing.
Trying to learn.
“Information is power,” his mom always told him, explaining that was why she spent so much time reading what she called “the trades,” newspapers like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety that covered the movie business.
“You’re in a fantasy league, too!” he’d tell her.
When he was playing fantasy football, and winning at it, and being called Brain by his friends, he wasn’t the boy without a dad. And he wasn’t the boy who wasn’t good enough to be a star playing football.
He felt like he was the one in the movies. A superhero.
The rest of the world didn’t always make sense to Charlie Gaines. Football did. Who to pick and who not to pick and who to dump and who to keep. Who was on the rise and who was fading away. Which numbers meant something and which didn’t and how they changed from season to season and what it all meant.
He laughed sometimes at the idea that this was all a fantasy, because other than his love for his mom and his friends, nothing was more real to him.
Maybe his biggest fantasy of all? Actually having a dad to watch football games with.
Richard Gaines had left a few months before Charlie’s fourth birthday. He never came back. And had finally stopped calling. It was why Charlie’s memories of him were sketchy at best. His mom would ask if he remembered the time they did this, or the time when he was three when they all went to Disneyland, and he’d shake his head. He did remember the time when his dad drove him down to San Diego to see a Chargers game, remembered where they sat and how cool he thought the Chargers’ uniforms were and how big everything looked to him. But not much else. Sometimes he felt like he really shouldn’t be missing something—a relationship with his dad—that he’d never had in the first place.
One time he heard his mom on the phone, talking to one of her friends, saying, “As far as I know, he’s still out there trying to find his fortune. But I fully expect they’ll find life on Mars before that happens.”
Alone in his room now with football, his mom downstairs on her own computer, Charlie closed his eyes and shook his head, telling himself to focus on what he had in his life and not on what he didn’t.
The game in front of him.
Not as interested in a Giants’ rookie on this night as he was a thirty-eight-year-old backup quarterback for the Bengals, lighting it up in the second quarter now that the Cincinnati starter was done for the night. It was no secret that everybody who followed pro football thought that Tom Pinkett was washed up, even though he’d been the number one pick in the draft when he’d come out of Arizona and was runner-up for the Heisman his senior year. That Tom Pinkett had no more value in real football than he did in fantasy.
Charlie wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t thinking about taking him in the draft. But stuff happened during the season, guys got hurt, especially quarterbacks, despite all the rules the league had passed trying to keep them safe, to make the NFL even more of a passers’ league. It’s why you had to keep paying attention, even in the preseason—especially in the preseason—because there might be information you could use down the road.
You never knew who might turn out to be your difference maker.
He turned up the volume a little, wanting to hear what the announcers were saying about Tom Pinkett, one of them saying his arm looked stronger than it had in a few years. It made things less quiet in his room.
Charlie told himself the announcers were all the company he needed. The Fantasy King, trying as always to keep it real.
What People are saying about this
it’s refreshing that those issues are only a part of 12-year-old Charlie Gains’ story. See, Charlie is known
as the Brain, because he is a football stats genius. He understands which players should be playing where
and why. This makes him great at fantasy football; then reality comes center stage. His best friend, Anna,
is the granddaughter of Joe Warren, the man who has brought NFL football back to Los Angeles. But the
team, the Bulldogs, haven’t done much, and Joe’s son, the GM, is being blamed. Enter Charlie, who loves
the team and soon comes to love Joe Warren as the father and grandfather he never had. Charlie shares his
massive football knowledge with Joe, and soon players are being recruited at Charlie’s suggestion. Couple
this with the fact Anna has turned Charlie into something of a podcast celebrity, and suddenly Charlie is
catnip for the media. That’s great until things start to go wrong. There’s a lot of football here: pro and
fantasy teams and Charlie’s own Pop Warner career. Veteran sportswriter Lupica handles it all very well.
However, it’s the heart and depth he adds to the story depicting Charlie’s relationships with a sterling cast
of characters that make this unique. This Moneyball story with kids is on the money.
Lupica, Mike. Fantasy League. Philomel/Penguin, 2014. 304p. $17.99. 978-0-399-25607-3.
Twelve-year-old Charlie Gaines, nicknamed the “Brain,” knows everything about football. He watches the games, studies the stats, and sees things professionals seem to miss. His best friend, Anna’s, grandfather, Joe Warren, owns the L.A. Bulldogs, an expansion team with a history of losing. Anna knows almost as much about football as Charlie and they love watching games and talking football, especially how they would turn the Bulldogs around. At Anna’s urging Charlie suggests to Warren that he draft an older quarterback who will probably be dropped by his current team. He is astonished when Warren takes this advice. Word gets out that Warren is taking suggestions from a twelve-year-old and both Charlie and Warren take considerable grief from the media. When Warren acts a second time on Charlie’s advice, the media has a field day. Will these choices prove positive for the Bulldogs? Throughout this, Charlie is also player/assistant coach in a Pop Warner league, not confident that he is talented enough.
Fantasy League by Lupica is the feel good book of the year. Charlie and Anna are truly best friends. It is heartwarming to see a friendship develop between septuagenarian Warren and Charlie, whose father left when he was young. Warren becomes friend/father/grandfather rolled into one. Lupica touches on family, illness, self-confidence, and more in an easy-reading, enjoyable way. While the plot is predictable, the action and characters make Fantasy League a fun read. Primarily geared to boys, female sports fans might enjoy this as well.—Ed Goldberg.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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SUMMARY- Seventh-grader Charlie Gaines was an everyday kid who loved football. Charlie also happened to be a whiz at fantasy football. Charlie’s best friend, Anna happens to be the granddaughter of the owner of a local NFL Football team (a team that isn’t doing really well and is pretty much a laughing-stock). Charlie makes a draft suggestion to Anna’s granddad and Charlie is surprised when her granddad takes him seriously. Soon, the football team starts doing better with Charlie’s suggestions but Charlie isn’t very comfortable with his new-found fame after the media gets wind of what’s been going on. As Charlie learns to cope with the good (and the bad!) of being locally famous, he soon learns things don’t always go the way you plan. Now Charlie is being targeted by the media and it also doesn’t help that his best friend is getting slightly peeved with him… WHAT I THOUGHT- I will be the first to admit, I am not a huge football fan (give me ice hockey and baseball!) and I wasn’t real excited about reviewing this book. After reading the book, I will admit Mr. Lupica has written a football story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hung on every word, the story was that good. The book had a ton of football facts and strategies but I really enjoyed reading all of it because it was mixed into such a great story line. The book isn’t just about football. It is more a story about being true to yourself, and making the most of the moment. It was about making new friends, and having fun with the old ones. It was very realistic and felt like a story that could happen to anyone. All the characters were excellent and each one had their own story behind them. I also liked the fact that Charlie’s best friend is a girl, but he doesn’t see her in any romantic ways – just someone who loves football the same amount that he does. Anna is a great character and it shows that she is as much an expert on football as Charlie. Mr. Lupica has written a wonderful story about so much more than football. *NOTE* I got a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
All in all this is a great book, somtimes sad sometimes happy and the best patt is you never know what your ginna get
I am a fan of mike lupica and fantasy football
I am lucky that this is fiction because when the Bulldogs won over the 49ers I was not happy. I am a 49er fan. Good news is that two weeks later the niners won vs the Bulldogs. Iam also not happy that that part was fiction. Curse you Mike Lupica!!!!!!!!!