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4.5 72
by Gordon Korman

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When Marcus moves to a new town in the dead of summer, he doesn't know a soul. While practicing football for impending tryouts, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with an older man. Charlie is a charismatic prankster—and the best football player Marcus has ever seen. He can't believe his good luck when he finds out that Charlie is actually Charlie Popovich,

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When Marcus moves to a new town in the dead of summer, he doesn't know a soul. While practicing football for impending tryouts, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with an older man. Charlie is a charismatic prankster—and the best football player Marcus has ever seen. He can't believe his good luck when he finds out that Charlie is actually Charlie Popovich, or "the King of Pop," as he had been nicknamed during his career as an NFL linebacker. But that's not all. There is a secret about Charlie that his own family is desperate to hide.

When Marcus begins school, he meets the starting quarterback on the team: Troy Popovich. Right from the beginning, Marcus and Troy disagree—about football, about Troy's ex-girlfriend, Alyssa, but most of all, about what's good for Charlie. Marcus is betting that he knows what's best for the King of Pop. And he is willing to risk everything to help his friend.

Editorial Reviews

Tim Green
“Funny, poignant and full of football action, POP hits you hard and doesn’t let up.”
New York Times Book Review
“A brisk, heartfelt and timely novel.”
“Fantastic…Perfectly captures the football experience.”
Richard Sandomir
…a brisk, heartfelt…novel about the risks of pursuing a sport that can devastate one's brain…Korman succeeds in showing the Popoviches' frustration with Charlie's deteriorating condition, as well as sympathetically portraying their confusion at how Marcus, an outsider, has become a better judge than they are of what Charlie can still remember and enjoy. And while Korman goes in, not surprisingly, for an inspirational endgame…he makes an intelligent choice in the way he wraps up Charlie's unsettling story.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Shortly after moving to a new town, Marcus encounters Charlie, a strange, middle-aged man who turns out to be an incredible football player. Marcus, hoping to be a varsity quarterback at his new school, begins meeting Charlie regularly. Charlie is a challenging and rewarding opponent, but there are mysteries about him that plague Marcus (“It was annoying, but waiting to see if Charlie was going to show up soon became Marcus's personal reality TV show”). Most puzzling: “For some reason, he thought he was a teenager, too.” At school, Marcus loses the quarterback position to school hero Troy—Charlie's son. Troy is oddly guarded about his father, but Marcus eventually figures out Charlie's secret: the repeated blows the former NFL player received resulted in early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Korman (The Juvie Three) skillfully weaves football terminology into the narrative without making it sound like a playbook, and Marcus's heartfelt loyalty to Charlie is believable, if the plotting is occasionally less so. Despite the athletic focus, this thought-provoking story is, at its core, about friendship and should have broad appeal. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Stacey Hayman
High school junior Marcus Jordan and his newly single mother have left Kansas and Marcus's overly controlling father for a small town in upstate New York. Marcus is looking to join the high school football team. He set a JV quarterback county record at his old school, but that achievement might not be enough to get him a spot on this team. Last year they had a perfect season and with only four graduating seniors, the team is not welcoming newbies, especially a newbie who wants to replace star QB Troy Popovich. While working on his skills in a park at the center of town, Marcus is joined by a middle-aged man. Charlie is fast, agile, and strong; he loves the "pop" of a good hit and teaches Marcus to love it too. Marcus is grateful for the dramatic improvement in his game, but how does Charlie have time to play ball in the middle of the day with a kid he just met? Girls will appreciate the head cheerleader's football savvy and the emotional entanglements of various characters, but what puts this book at the head of the class is its boy appeal, both for readers and non-readers alike. At first one might expect only a simple story about a teen hoping to make his high school football team, but that assumption would be wrong. Instead readers will be sucked into compelling story lines on complicated family situations, peer acceptance, the game of football, and the effects of progressive Alzheimer's disease on the persons involved, their families, and friends—themes that flow seamlessly together. Reviewer: Stacey Hayman
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—New to town, Marcus spends the summer before his junior year practicing football alone at a local park hoping to meet someone from the high school team. Instead, he meets an eccentric middle-aged man named Charlie who teaches Marcus more about football, tackling, and the art of the "pop" than he could have imagined, and the two strike up an unusual friendship. Charlie lives by no set schedule and can't seem to remember that Marcus's name is not Mac. Marcus tries out and makes the team, but learns that they are not a welcoming group, fearful that the newcomer will upset their perfect record. To make matters worse, the star quarterback, Troy, is Charlie's son, and his ex-girlfriend, Alyssa, has the hots for Marcus. Gradually, Marcus figures out that Charlie is an ex-NFL star who is suffering from early on-set Alzheimer's, a secret his family tries to keep well hidden. Despite these obstacles on and off the field, Marcus is determined to help his friend. Nick Podehl's skillful narration of his novel (HarperTeen, 2009) seamlessly flows between Marcus's teenage obliviousness and Charlie's middle-aged gruffness, adding another affective level to this heartbreaking story. Yet with plenty of football action, this atypical sports story will hook even the most reluctant readers/listeners.—Karen T. Bilton, Mary Jacobs Library, Rocky Hill, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Football will be the way Marcus Jordan makes the transition to his new school, so he practices in the park, preparing for tryouts. There he meets the enigmatic Charlie, a middle-aged man who knows much about football and conveys what Marcus has been missing in his game: fearlessness. "I love the pop! Sometimes you actually hear it go pop!" As bad luck would have it, Charlie is the father of Troy, star of the team, who takes an instant dislike to Marcus. Soon it is clear that Charlie is not eccentric but suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's caused by all the hits he took as a player in the NFL, a fact his family works hard to conceal. Marcus's involvement with Charlie exposes the secret and reveals the family tensions it has created. This carefully structured story, despite the difficult issue at its core, engages readers primarily with complex characters (including secondary ones) and well-drawn relationships. The football scenes are riveting, but the poignant human drama more than holds its own. Banking his usual over-the-top humor, Korman goes straight to the heart. (Fiction. 12 & up)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

Marcus Jordan killed the motor on his Vespa and surveyed the flowering shrubs and tall maples surround-ing him. Nice. Picturesque, even.

More like The Twilight Zone.

For starters, the name...Three Alarm Park, after some chili cook-off that used to be held there in the sixties or something.

Marcus jumped down, pulling the gym bag off his shoulders. From it, he produced the items that would turn Three Alarm Park into a practice facility...a regulation football, a length of rope, and a round, plastic picture frame with the glass knocked out.

He looked around, noting that the only other living creature was a squirrel. This was the fourth straight day he'd trained here, and he'd yet to exchange a word of conversation with anybody but himself. Dead summer...great time to move to a new state. Thanks, Mom.

He tossed the rope over a high branch and strung up the picture-frame hoop. Then he started the target swinging gently and retreated about ten yards.


Just like he'd done a million times before, he took three steps back and let fly.

The ball sizzled, a perfect spiral, missing the hoop by at least four feet.

Marcus snorted. Lonely and lousy. A one-two punch. With the added insult of having to chase down your own pass so you could mess it up all over again.

He worked his way up to four for ten, then eleven for twenty, and then he broke out the water bottle to give himself a party. Here in the middle of the open field, the only protection from the August sun was a large granite modern art statue titled Remembrance, which looked like a titanic paper airplane had fallen from the sky and buriedits nose in the grass at a forty-five-degree angle. A river of perspiration streamed down the middle of Marcus's back. So he did what any self-respecting football player would do. He cranked it up a notch. Football was the only sport where adverse weather conditions made you go harder instead of quitting. He'd still be out here if it were only ten degrees and he were slogging through knee-deep snow and blizzard conditions.

Intermission...a dozen laps around the field, to really feel the pain. Then he was throwing again, from different angles and farther away. His completion percentage went down, but his determination never wavered. There was something about launching a football thirty-five or forty yards and having it go exactly where you aimed it. To a quarterback, it was as basic as breathing.

Sucking in a lungful of moist, heavy air, Marcus pumped once and unleashed the longest pass of the day, a loose spiral that nevertheless seemed to have a lot of power behind it. It sailed high over the apex of the Paper Airplane before beginning its downward trajectory toward the hoop.

For the first time in four days, Marcus spied another human being in the park. The figure was just a blur across his field of vision. It leaped into the air, picked off the pass, and kept on going.

The receiver made a wide U-turn and, grinning triumphantly, jogged up to Marcus.Marcus smiled too. "Nice catch, bro..."

He was looking at a middle-aged man, probably around fifty years old. He was tall and built redwood solid. But the guy ran like a gazelle and had caught the ball with sure hands, tucking it in tight as he ran. He had definitely played this game before.

"Sorry," Marcus added, embarrassed.

"For what?" The man flipped him the ball. "Making you look bad?"

"I just thought...never mind. My name's Marcus. Marcus Jordan."

With lightning hands, the man knocked the ball loose, scooped it up on the bounce, and bellowed, "Go deep!"

Starved for company, Marcus did not have to be asked twice. He took off downfield, glancing over his shoulder.


"I'm running out of park!" Marcus shouted, but kept on going, his breath growing short. Another backward glance. The ball was on its way. Marcus broke into a full sprint. The old guy had an arm like a cannon!

He took to the air in a desperation dive. For an instant, the ball was right there on his fingertips. He had it. . . .

The ground swung up quickly and slammed him, and the pass bounced away. He lay there for a moment, hyperventilating and spitting out turf. The next thing he saw was the fifty-something-year-old, beaming and pulling him back to his feet.

"Way to miss everything."

"You overthrew me a little," Marcus said, defending himself.

The man plucked the ball off the grass. "You couldn't catch a cold, Mac."

"It's Marcus," he amended. "And you are . . . ?"

The old guy scowled. "Your worst nightmare if you don't quit pulling my chain."

Marcus flushed. "What should I call you?"

"Try Charlie, stupid. Heads!" He punted the ball straight up in the air.

The kick was very high, silhouetted against the cobalt blue sky, tiny and soaring.

Marcus was instantly on board, shuffling first one way and then the other as he tried to predict where it would come down. For some reason, it was very important to make this catch, especially since he'd screwed up the other one. It was his natural competitiveness, but there was something more. This Charlie character might be weird, but his enthusiasm had sucked Marcus in.

The ball plunged down, and Marcus gathered it into his arms.

Something hit him. The impact was so jarring, so unexpected, that there was barely time to register what was happening. It was Charlie...he'd rammed a rock-hard shoulder into Marcus's sternum and dropped him where he stood. The ball squirted loose, but Marcus wasn't even aware of it. He lay like a stone on the grass, ears roaring, trying to keep from throwing up his breakfast.

Gasping, he scrambled to his feet, squaring off against his companion. "What was that for?"

"I love the pop! Sometimes you actually hear it go pop!"

"That was the sound of my head coming off," Marcus muttered.

Pop. Copyright © by Gordon Korman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

Tim Green
“Funny, poignant and full of football action, POP hits you hard and doesn’t let up.”

Meet the Author

Gordon Korman has written more than seventy middle-grade and teen novels, including the New York Times bestselling THE 39 CLUES: CAHILLS VS. VESPERS BOOK ONE: THE MEDUSA PLOT; the Swindle series; UNGIFTED; the Island series, POP; SCHOOLED; NO MORE DEAD DOGS; SON OF THE MOB; and many other favorites. Gordon lives with his family on Long Island, New York. You can visit him online at www.gordonkorman.com.

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