From the Publisher
"It's a riveting story...Wallace weighs his words carefully, making every one count in this excellent, understated first novel"Booklist, starred review.
"There are only a few contemporary writers who can hit the mark with teenage boys, and Rich Wallace, with his first novel, seems likely to join that group...You don't need to know or like wrestling to become quickly engaged with this story."Chicago Tribune
"The sports angle makes this a great "guy's" book, while the gripping narrative and feisty heroine will appeal to young women, too. A real winner"Publishers Weekly, starred review.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Anyone even remotely curious about small-town America need look no further than this exemplary first novel. Wallace's clipped, gently sardonic prose captures it all, from the red-faced former jocks in the wrestling booster club, to the teens with nothing to do but drink (a lot) and drive in an endless loop through town, to the Saturday night polka party on public TV. Narrator Ben, a high school senior, doesn't want to be like his father and so many others in Sturbridge, Pa., who after graduating get a job at the cinder block plant. Seemingly his only alternative is to become a state wrestling champion and thus win an athletic scholarship. But his way is firmly blocked by his buddy Al, who reigns supreme in their weight class, and Ben is relegated to the ignominy of being Al's practice partner and a benchwarmer during tournaments. Enter Kim, a Puerto Rican track enthusiast transplanted from New Jersey. Despite their close relationship, Kim won't put up with Ben's self-pitying, defeatist attitude. Wallace isn't writing a sports fairy story, so Ben doesn't achieve his goal; much more believably, he feels like a winner because he finally tries with all his might. The sports angle makes this a great "guy's" book, while the gripping narrative and feisty heroine will appeal to young women, too. A real winner. Ages 12-17. (June)
The ALAN Review - Donald R. Gallo
With this first novel, Rich Wallace has earned himself a top ranking among the best writers of young adult sports novels. This relatively short book is filled with vivid action scenes along with thoughtful introspective musings by the vulnerable narrator, a high-school senior who has been the second-best wrestler in his weight class in a small-town Pennsylvania high school. Ben wants to be state champion as much as the first-best wrestler, his friend Al. But does he have enough courage to challenge - and beat - Al? And if he doesn't beat Al and go on to college, will Ben remain stuck in Sturbridge for the rest of his life, working in the cinderblock factory like his dad and all the others? You don't have to like wrestling to appreciate this novel, though sports-minded males will likely be this book's most appreciative readers.
VOYA - C. Allen Nichols
On the surface this book is about a high school wrestler who just can't crack the surface and beat his best friend for a spot on the team. Beneath the surface, however, is where the real action takes place. Ben is stuck in the small town of Sturbridge, where the year is spent waiting for the high school wrestling season and everyone works for the cinder block factory. Ben's best friends all are starters on the team, and he so happens to be in the same weight class as one of them. That friend is looking for another trip to the state championship, and Ben, a very good wrestler in his own right, has been labeled the best workout partner one could possibly have. Ben's frustration on the mat is only one of the challenges he is facing; others are determining his place in life (hopefully away from Sturbridge and the cinder block factory), figuring out his new girlfriend (an intelligent young woman if there ever was one), and trying to decide how badly he wants to be a state champion. Don't let the idea of wrestling turn you off this exciting and well-done story. Wallace has written a gem that deals with the gritty emotions of being a teenage boy who matures into a man. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 8 UpBen, a senior at Sturbridge High School, is one of the best 135-pound wrestlers around. Unfortunately, a contender for the state championship in that weight category goes to the same school. Relegated to sitting on the bench, Ben yearns for a chance to prove himself on the mat while at the same time he "wrestles" with his feelings about his family and friends, girls, and the future. Wallace makes a splendid debut, penning a novel that adolescent readers will find both entertaining and thought-provoking. Ben, who narrates the story, describes his small northeastern Pennsylvania town as a place where "civic pride revolves around the high school wrestling team, and the future is as bright as the inside of the cinder block factory where our dads work." He's vowed not to follow the path of most of the local malestoiling at the factory and joining the wrestling booster club. The teen is equally determined to take the 135-pound wrestling spot from his teammate Al. As Ben grapples with some major issues, with the help of his Puerto Rican girlfriend, who's much wiser than her years, he also squares off with Al on the mat in a page-turning match to see who'll represent their team in the upcoming tournaments. The resolutions to all Ben's battles will ring true to readers who will anxiously await the author's next book. Promote this title to the fans of Bruce Brooks, Chris Crutcher, and Chris Lynch.Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI