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Losing Is Not an Option

Losing Is Not an Option

2.8 4
by Rich Wallace

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Ron is watcher, it seems. He watches his pick-up basketball team–five guys trying to fit together on the court. He watches Dawn on the dance floor, and that tiny star tattoo on her shoulder. He watches Darby run, her short legs all sweat and muscle. He watches his friends veer off–and up–into popularity. He watches his dad move in with his


Ron is watcher, it seems. He watches his pick-up basketball team–five guys trying to fit together on the court. He watches Dawn on the dance floor, and that tiny star tattoo on her shoulder. He watches Darby run, her short legs all sweat and muscle. He watches his friends veer off–and up–into popularity. He watches his dad move in with his grandmother and make do. But he’s more than a watcher: He’s a hustler on the court, a free-thrower, a poet, a poker player, a rule breaker, a loving grandson, a runner, and a ruthless competitor in those eight laps around the track–the 3200 meter. In nine interwoven stories, award-winning author Rich Wallace brings a small-town high school to life through the sharp, spare voice–and the heart-pounding defeats and triumphs–of an athlete.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Not all of these nine linked stories pack the same punch, but together they powerfully render an athlete's coming of age. Wallace (Wrestling Sturbridge) moves from his protagonist's awkward preadolescence to his glory years as a high school track star. Ron's love of sports is a recurring theme, but it does not dominate every selection. More resonant issues center around Ron's relationships: with his distant father, who never comes to his meets, with his high school dropout brother, who gave up on sports, and with a handful of teammates, opponents and girls, who seem beyond his reach. The stories get stronger as the book progresses and as Ron becomes increasingly aware of fractures within his family and of his own frailties. The most insightful and uplifting moment occurs in the final, title story when Ron pushes himself to the limit to win a state track championship. Here the author shifts from first person to third, briefly encapsulating Ron's history-his drives, vulnerabilities and strengths. Readers are asked to read between the lines in a book that is greater-and more powerful-than the sum of its parts. Ages 10-14. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Nine short stories highlight Ron's life from sixth grade through senior year. He moves from sneaking under the fence to watch a high school football game with a buddy, to winning a state championship race while his family and the girl he's dating watch. In between, we see him learn teamwork on a summer league basketball team and in track practices and meets. One story shows his nostalgic love and respect for his late grandfather, and others touch briefly on the breakup of his parents' marriage and his older brother's problems. When he's about to enter eighth grade, he humiliates himself with girls at the county fair because he's too young and inexperienced. A few years later, he fails again when he's attracted to a girl in his summer workshop for creative teens, but this time it's because he moves too fast. By the time of the title story, which details his preparation for and winning of the race that matters most to him, he has matured in his attitude toward other people and his ability to discipline himself to reach his own goals. 2003, Laurel-Leaf Books/Random House Children's Books, Ages 12 to 16.
—Judy DaPolito
Characters and settings from the author's other sports novels are revisited in this collection of contemplative but intense sports-related short stories. The works are primarily character studies with enough genuine athletic action for sports fans, but not so much play-by-play detail that non-fans will lose interest. In one of the most memorable stories, Thanksgiving, there are no balls or races at all. Brothers Ron and Devin get into a car accident on the way home from Devin's college and must call their domineering father with the news. Rather than displaying his usual ballistic reaction, their father is relieved that his sons are okay, and the experience changes them all subtly. In Letters That Would Soar a Thousand Feet High finds Ron attending a barn party with a fellow runner from another town. The party guests are mostly gay athletes. Ron is decidedly straight and handles the situation with graceful maturity-a quality that also applies to his athletic skill. Most of the stories involve Ron's long-distance running and his goal of winning at the Pennsylvania state high school championships. All these works involve intriguing, complex people. Their sports are only a part of what makes them worth knowing. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Knopf, 144p,
— Elaine McGuire
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Nine interrelated stories follow Ron as he makes his way through the difficult terrain of adolescence from junior high to his senior year in high school. The setting is Wallace's familiar landscape of a small working-class town in Pennsylvania. Most of the stories revolve around the boy's involvement in various sports, but the reach of several stories goes further, including his complicated family situation and relationship with girls. The sports action is always gritty and well described, and the dialogue is rough but right on target. Many of the endings of the stories are filled with subtlety and ambiguity, offering snapshots of the protagonist at various points in his teenage life. Among the best stories is "Night Game," which captures the moment when Ron's best friend moves from childhood into adolescence, leaving Ron behind. "Dawn" shows him well into adolescence, but not quite able to grasp fully the complicated rules of mutual sexual attraction. The final story, "Losing Is Not an Option" (the only one told in third person), captures the pain and exhilaration of a highly competitive distance race in the teen's senior year. An excellent collection.-Todd Morning, Schaumburg Township Public Library, IL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wallace returns to the town of Sturbridge with nine lyrical stories about athlete and poet Ron, who has athleticism far less grim than that of Wrestling Sturbridge (1996). Though sports are essential to Ron, many of these vignettes focus on his other facets. In the lovely "I Voted for Mary Ann," Ron copes with the death of a beloved grandfather, and a vintage issue of Playboy yields an oddly appropriate poignancy. "In Letters That Would Soar a Thousand Feet High" offers an unexpectedly hopeful view of alternative sexualities and athleticism. A summer basketball league provides a glimpse into the complexities of athletes-some dark, some casual-in "What It All Goes Back To." These touching sketches reveal Ron's intricacies as an artist, as a runner, and-most important-as a member of a sports-mad community. Moving and engaging. (Fiction. 11-15)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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2 MB
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12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Night Game

It was the fourth home game of the season, so it’d be ten in a row for us if we could avoid getting nailed going over the fence. We’d gone six for six the year before, in fifth grade, but they’d tightened security that fall.

We dressed dark so we wouldn’t be seen, and we knew how to lie in the tall weeds behind the field, timing our move while other kids, less cautious, got caught sneaking in.

We’d never been caught.

I was psyched.

I always walked the four blocks over to Gene’s house before the football games, even though my house was closer to the stadium. This was late October, so the sun was down and the sky was barely visible through the maples, broad enough to meet above the street and still holding some red and amber leaves. I needed a sweatshirt under my coat, but no gloves yet. Definitely not a hat.

I walked in the street, right down the middle, rarely having to shift to the sidewalk for a passing car. The traffic to the game was out on Main Street, away from our neighborhood. Most people walked to the games anyway, especially on nights like this.

Gene’s house was like ours. I’d walk right in the back door. His mother would be doing dishes, his father would be reading the paper with a fat cigar in the center of his mouth.

“Ronny’s here,” Gene’s mom would call, and he’d come racing down the stairs.

He’d shoot me a look--No fence can stop us--and go over and kiss his mom.

“Have money?” she asked.

“All I need.”

“Pooh-Gene,” his dad said, looking up from the paper, “you going to a dance?”


“Pretty fancy shirt for a football game.”

“It’ll be under my jacket.”

His father just gave him the look--amusement mostly-- and nodded as he went back to the paper.

This was a little odd, this button-down pinstriped shirt Gene had on. But he grabbed his jacket and kind of pushed his chin toward the door.

“Maybe we’ll see you at the game,” his mom said. Both sets of our parents would be there (our older brothers sat the bench; they might get in for a few kickoffs in a blowout, but mostly they played on Monday afternoons with the JV squad). If we saw our parents there, we wouldn’t let on that we knew them.

Foot traffic was heavy by the time we got to Main Street, and you could feel the banging of the drums six blocks away and the tinny sound of the fight song riding over it.

We turned up Buchanan Street, moving into a darker zone to approach the field from the far corner. “Dickheadsaywhat?” Gene said.


He started cracking up.

“You suck,” I said, laughing, too. He got me with that a couple of times a week. I smacked him on the arm with my fist.

He stopped walking. “It’s a little early yet,” he said. “Give it about ten minutes.”

We took a seat on the curb. He took a filter-tipped cigar out of his pocket, about the size of a crayon, and stuck it in his mouth.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

“Smolinski.” His neighbor, a freshman in high school.

He lit the cigar and took a long puff, holding the smoke in his mouth. He handed it to me. The inhalation was surprisingly hot but had a hint of vanilla or something mild.

We both took another puff, then he rubbed it out on the pavement and put it back in his pocket.

“Save that for later,” he said.

We’d kicked butt that afternoon, touch football on the street in front of his house. His block had more kids than mine for some reason, and we always managed to get on the same team, whether it was stickball, football, street hockey, or driveway basketball. There were always other kids around, but we stuck together. We were such close friends with each other that all our other friends seemed peripheral. It was like we shared two homes, two sets of parents, and two older brothers. My parents’ photo albums had more pictures of Gene in them than any of my cousins or uncles.

We usually won. He’d hit me with square-outs all the way down the field (telephone poles marking each goal line). We did better than the Giants or the Jets were doing.

Two guys were walking down the hill toward us in a hurry. Jerry Boyd and Peter Macey. Peter was in the group that had parties and went to the movies with girls. Jerry was his shadow.

“Geno,” Peter said as they walked past.

“What’s up?” Gene said.

Peter kept walking, turning backward for a few steps. “Going to the game?”


“See you there.”


Gene stood up from the curb, wiped off his pants.

“What a jerk,” I said, meaning Peter.

“No,” Gene said. “He’s cool.”

“He sure thinks so.”

Peter did stupid stuff like writing girls’ names on his notebook covers. We didn’t want anything to do with that stuff.

“Time to move,” Gene said, taking a deep breath. He turned to face me squarely. “Quiet,” he said.

“I know.” I’d almost screwed it up the week before.

We walked the length of the stadium but a block up the hill from it, then cut through a yard, crossed the gravel parking lot, and made our way down the grassy hill at the corner of the Sturbridge Building Products lot. We edged along through that little patch of woods till we were diagonally across from the refreshment stand, back by that low, shedlike building where they store the pole-vault mats and the lawn tractor.

We knelt there, amid the fallen leaves and stray beer cans, surveying the scene.

Gene nudged my arm. “Falco,” he whispered, staring straight ahead.

I looked around. Mr. Falco, a janitor from our school, was standing inside the fence about fifteen feet from our hopping spot, a place where the barbed wire atop the chain-link fence was cut and hanging and that tractor shed afforded maximum shelter. His back was to us, but it was obvious why he was stationed there. Too many others had been using this spot.

We had alternatives, but we’d need to be quiet. We’d need to risk ripped coats and scratched faces, but we’d get in. We’d save the two bucks’ admission.

“Under?” I whispered.

He looked around. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Rich Wallace is the author of three other books set in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania: Wrestling Sturbridge, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults; Shots on Goal; and Playing Without the Ball.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Losing Is Not an Option 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
They totally lost
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Winning Is A Must¿ Ron is a high-school boy who is running for his track team. He lives in Philadelphia, and is one of the best runners in the state, in the event called the two-mile. Before track season started Ron, ran cross country. He made it to state, but was beat in the last 100 meters. So when track comes around Ron is determined to win state, but when he finds out that the times the people have he is racing against are faster than his Ron doesn¿t know if he can win state. If you would like to read about what Ron does you will have to read this book. Overall, this book is very good, but lets talk about the down part of the book first. There are only really two down parts of this book, and the first and major one is that in the book it switches from third person to first person throughout it. The second and last reason is that it is a book of short stories so it skips or jumps around a lot, which is sometimes a little hard to follow. Now that we have talked about the bad in this book lets talk about the good. There are a lot of good things in this book, but I am going to name just a few. One of them is that it is all mostly about sports, which is good, if you enjoy them. Another great thing about this book is that it changes stories, but keeps the same character in each story which is great! There is not just one sport it talks about either. It talks about different sports throughout the book including: football, basketball, cross country, and track. The book also includes a moral to the story which is always good to have in a book. If you are really into sports, especially the ones I mentioned, that you will love this book. I play most of these sports and I like this book. Like I said I have said throughout this time, this book is good, and I hope you can too read it someday. One last thing about this book is that it is only 127 pages long. I liked this book, and I hope you do to, if you read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It related to me in a way that i started to take losing as a sin in Track and Basketball. The main character and I are juss a like, we are both in high school and both love to run. when some one does something that we havn't we work harder to be better that them. If you hate losing and u think when bad things happen you have to stop what you are doin because of that, then this is your book