Gym Candy

Gym Candy

4.6 117
by Carl Deuker

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Mick Johnson is determined not to make the same mistakes his father, a failed football hero, made. But after being tackled just short of the end zone in a big game, Mick begins using “gym candy,” or steroids. His performances become record-breaking, but the side effects are terrible: Mick suffers ’roid rage, depression, and body acne. Gym Candy&rsquo… See more details below


Mick Johnson is determined not to make the same mistakes his father, a failed football hero, made. But after being tackled just short of the end zone in a big game, Mick begins using “gym candy,” or steroids. His performances become record-breaking, but the side effects are terrible: Mick suffers ’roid rage, depression, and body acne. Gym Candy’s subject matter is just as hard-hitting as its football scenes. You’ll find yourself unable to look away as Mick goes down a road that even he knows is the wrong one to travel.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Ava Ehde
Mick wants to blame his father for making football his life's focus, but it is only partly true. His dad has carefully planned his football career, even starting Mick in school a year late to give him a size advantage by high school as a running back. On the other hand, his mother does not even want to see the potentially violent and injurious football games. His good friends Drew and DeShawn want to excel at football also, but they were never driven like Mick. Mick was brought down just one foot from the goal line the previous season by an immense Foothill linebacker, so he works all summer to increase his size. He trains with weights to exhaustion and uses steroids to become a star, but in the end, he must accept that he does it for himself and that winning almost costs him his life and all that matters. He willingly puts up with the depression and rages that ensue. He gives up on a budding romance and on hanging out with his friends. This well-written work highlights the "bigger, stronger, faster" competitive culture to which Americans have been conditioned to subscribe in sports. Steroids have become commonplace, but this persuasive story is able to disseminate the facts and heartbreak of their use by showing what can happen to a driven, everyday guy. This story will make a great addition to both school and public libraries and an eye-opening recommendation to all budding athletes.
Children's Literature - Elizabeth D. Schafer
Pressured by his former professional football player father, Mick Johnson aspires to be an extraordinary athlete. Mick practices diligently, but despite his achievements, including being selected as a starter and freshman captain of his high school team, Mick's father is never satisfied. Mick seeks quick ways to strengthen his body. He buys nutritional supplements but is disappointed when they do not significantly build muscles. Mick's father arranges for Mick to work with an athletic trainer at a private gymnasium during summer break. Charismatic Peter Volz advises Mick regarding weightlifting and also sells him performance enhancing drugs. Mick initially limits his steroids ingestion, believing he can bulk up without becoming addicted. When school resumes, Mick noticeably runs faster and lifts heavier weights. He sets records and completes thrilling plays as his team defeats rivals. Celebrated as a football hero, Mick receives desired paternal approval. Although steroid side effects, including acne and puffy breasts, upset Mick, who experiences emotional rage and depression, he escalates steroid use, injecting those drugs in an attempt to remain competitive. Mick distances himself from best friend Drew and also girlfriend Kaylee's romantic overtures. Addressing a topic impacting many teen athletes, Deuker skillfully depicts Mick's transformation into an erratic steroid addict whose extreme behavior and choices catapult his life out of control, rushing toward a shocking conclusion. This book would pair well with Robert Lipsyte's Raiders Night (2006). Reviewer: Elizabeth D. Schafer
F. Todd Goodson
With Gym Candy, Carl Deuker presents a young athlete's journey through abuse of performance enhancing drugs. Mick Johnson's father was a failure as a professional football player, and he puts enormous pressure on his son to succeed in the sport. Held back a year from starting kindergarten so he would be bigger than the other boys, Mick struggles to find his own identity as something other than a football player. Eventually he connects with a personal trainer who gets him started taking steroids. While the effects are positive at first, eventually the drugs cause his behavior to become increasingly erratic as he sinks into despair. The book ends on a positive note, but the ending recognizes the on-going struggle confronting those recovering from substance abuse. Given the on-going interest in the use of performance-enhancing drugs by professional athletes, Gym Candy should hold strong appeal to sports fans (particularly middle school and high school boys), and the book's simple, uncluttered prose should be accessible to non-readers and struggling readers. Reviewer: F. Todd Goodson
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2007: Football is in Mick's blood; his father made it to the NFL, and he longs to be a star. But is the high school freshman big enough, strong enough, fast enough? He has doubts, and when a personal trainer mentions he can get steroids, Mick eventually succumbs to the temptation. Despite the side effects—zits, ‘roid rage, depression, even beginning to grow breasts—he persists in taking them, and he does well on the field. Then his best friend finds his kit, and unexpected violence results. What will it take for Mick to quit his habit? Deuker is the author of other sports-oriented YA novels, such as Runner and High Heat, and he knows his stuff—there's lots of convincing and detailed football action here. Mick's passion for the game and his willingness to do anything to succeed are believable, too. This is a solid sports tale with a valuable message about the dangers of addiction. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
From the Publisher

"Deuker skillfully complements a sobering message with plenty of exciting on-field action…[A] solid addition to the sports fiction shelf."--Booklist, 9/1/07 Booklist, ALA

"Deuker continues his run as premier author of provocative YA sports novels...[kick] off the football season with this riveting title…" The Bulletin 9/2007

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Deuker...knows his stuff...This is a solid sports tale with a valuable message."--KLIATT September 2007 KLIATT

"[A] great addition to both school and public libraries and an eye-opening recommendation to all budding athletes."--VOYA October 2007 VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

"Deuker realistically portrays the paranoia, acne, and emotional roller-coaster...of steroid use." SLJ 10/2007 School Library Journal

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Sales rank:
710L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

My earliest memory is of an afternoon in June. I was four years old, and I was in the backyard with my dad. He’d just bought me a purple and gold mini football, my first football. He’d marked off an area of our backyard with a white chalk line. “Here’s how it works, Mick. You try to run there,” he said, pointing behind the line, “and I try to stop you.” He shoved the mini football into the crook of my arm, led me to the far end of the yard, went back to the middle, got down on his knees, and yelled: “Go!”

I took off running toward the end zone. Our backyard is narrow, his arms are long, and even on his knees he could move fast enough to catch a four-year-old. Time after time I ran, trying to get by him. But he never let me have anything for nothing, not even then. Over and over he’d stretch out one of his arms and tackle me. Sometimes the tears would well up. “There’s no crying in football,” he’d say, which I guess is a joke from some Tom Hanks movie, and he’d send me back to try again.

And then I did it. I zigged when he was expecting a zag, and I was by him. I crossed the chalk line at the end of the yard, my heart pounding. I remember squealing for joy as I turned around. He was lying on the ground, arms reaching toward me, a huge smile on his face. “Touchdown Mick Johnson!” he yelled. “Your first touchdown!”

All those years, I believed that every kid in the neighborhood was jealous of me. And why not? I’d spent time at the houses of the boys on my block —Philip and Cory and Marcus. I’d seen their dads sprawled out on the sofa. Mostly they’d ignore me, but if they asked me something, it was always about school. I’d answer, and then they’d go back to their newspaper. These fathers drove delivery trucks or taught high school or worked in office buildings in downtown Seattle. They wore glasses, had close-cropped hair, and either had bellies or were starting to get them. Everything about them seemed puny.

My dad was bigger and stronger than any of them. His voice was deeper, his smile wider, his laugh louder. Like me, he has red hair, only his was long and reached his shoulders. He wore muscle T-shirts that showed his tattoos—on one shoulder a dragon, on the other a snake. He kept a keg of beer in the den, and whenever he filled his beer stein, he’d let me sip the foam off the top. The way he looked, the way he acted—those things alone put him a million miles above every other kid’s father. But there was one last thing that absolutely sealed the deal—my dad was a star.

Our den proved it. It was down in the basement, across from my mom’s laundry room, and it was filled with scrapbooks and plaques and medals. Two walls were covered with framed newspaper articles. It was the headlines of those articles that told his story. I used to go downstairs into the den, pick up one of the game balls that he kept in a metal bin in the corner, and walk around and read them, feeling the laces and the leather of the football as I read. Mike Johnson Sets High School Yardage Record . . . Mike Johnson Leads Huskies over USC . . . Mike Johnson Named to All–Pac Ten First Team . . . Mike Johnson Selected in Third Round.

Sometimes my dad would come in while I was staring at the walls. He’d tell me about a touchdown run he’d made in a rainstorm against Cal or the swing pass in the Sun Bowl that he’d broken for sixty-five yards. When he finished with one of his stories, he’d point to the two bare walls. “Those are yours, Mick,” he’d say. “You’re going to fill them up with your own headlines.”

My mom had been a top gymnast at the University of Washington the same years my dad was on the football team. She runs around Green Lake every morning, and she used to do the Seattle-to-Portland bicycle race, so she knows all about competition. But every time she heard my dad talk about me making the headlines, she’d put her hands on my shoulders and look at me with her dark eyes. “You don’t have to fill any walls with anything,” she’d say. “You just be you.” Then she’d point her finger at my dad. “And you stop with all that ‘bare walls’ stuff.”

My dad would laugh. “A little pressure is good for a boy. Keeps him on his toes.”

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