Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Shooting Star

Shooting Star

4.3 3
by Fredrick McKissack Jr.

See All Formats & Editions

He wants to be the real deal...now.

Jomo Rodgers finished his first year on varsity hearing "if onlys," as in, if only he were bigger.

His talent on the field is easy to spot, and local papers and college recruiters are taking notice. But with his best friend on speed dial for recruiters at big-time college programs, and treated like a king at


He wants to be the real deal...now.

Jomo Rodgers finished his first year on varsity hearing "if onlys," as in, if only he were bigger.

His talent on the field is easy to spot, and local papers and college recruiters are taking notice. But with his best friend on speed dial for recruiters at big-time college programs, and treated like a king at football-crazy Cranmer Academy, Jomo decides he wants to be more than merely good, he wants to be the real deal...now.

Taking his coach's lecture about commitment to heart, Jomo plunges into a new workout regimen that will make him stronger and faster. But is that enough? A little juice -- as in steroids -- might be the difference between being good and being great. It's an easy choice...that is about to make his life a whole lot harder.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
This hard-hitting novel captures the camaraderie of student athletes and the pressure on them to win, sometimes at the cost of health, conscience and academic achievement. The ending is wrenching, a powerful moment of growth and redemption.
—The Washington Post
VOYA - Jonatha Basye
Jomo Rogers loves to play football, even though he is not as gifted as his best friend, Jayson. Jayson is the real star of the Cranmar Colonels. He can run and pass the ball like a pro. Jomo wants to be like him, but does not possess the physical prowess that was bestowed upon Jayson. Jomo begins training every day during the off-season, but is unable to build the muscle mass needed to become a great player. Inevitably Jomo begins "juicing." The steroids work quickly, turning Jomo into 185 pounds of pure muscle. The drugs also alter Jomo's personality. He becomes ruthless, both on and off the playing field. Jomo knows that he is hooked on the drug, and he begins to wonder if there is any hope left for him. McKissack tackles a subject that many student athletes face on a daily basis. Does one take the easy way out to reach a goal or continue to work hard and perhaps never reach number one status? Jomo opts for the easy road, but he eventually learns from his mistakes. McKissack's story moves quickly, as readers see how rapidly the steroids take over Jomo's life. Characters are well developed, and the story is engaging. This must-purchase novel would be perfect for reluctant readers. They will enjoy it because of McKissack's candid writing style. Reviewer: Jonatha Basye
Children's Literature - Anita Barnes Lowen
Jomo is one of the town's local "Five to Watch Next Year;" talented on the football field with speed, stamina and awareness but unlikely to play prime-time college football. If only he were taller and heavier or bigger like his good friend and teammate Jayson who is already getting calls from college recruiters. "Jomo knew what the recruiters wanted: muscle, power, speed...he lacked them all. He could have them though —with a little help." A tough exercise regime will make him a lot stronger. But that takes time and there is a much faster, much easier way if Jomo is willing to sell his soul for a bought body. Virgil Ganz, the redneck drug dealer, is more than happy to set Jomo up. The steroids work. "Within a few days, Jomo could feel a change in his body. A few weeks later he felt like a different person. Stronger, much stronger." Now his coaches, his teammates and even his dad who always seems to be turning Jomo's triumphs into tragedies are taking notice. But Jomo will soon discover that his decision to juice is going to make his life much harder. Lots of locker room language but nothing that teenage boys have not heard at school or on the street. Recommended. Reviewer: Anita Barnes Lowen
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—African-American Jomo Rodgers is a talented if somewhat undersized defensive back on his high school's football team. Overshadowed by Jayson Caldwell, his best friend and the team's star running back, Jomo, after much hesitation, decides to take the steroid route to fame, with tragic results for himself, his team, and those he loves. This is no simplistic "problem" novel—Jomo is a complex character whose ambitions are at war with his personal sense of morality. While the adults in his life are intelligent and caring, they seem too absorbed in their own issues to give him the guidance he needs. His father, a former college athlete and student activist who teaches African-American studies, is embittered by what he experienced and observed of the treatment of athletes (especially black athletes) at the college level. His anger and resentment have driven his wife away and led to excessive drinking and problems in his relationship with Jomo. Coaches seem oblivious to the signs of Jomo's steroid use until it is too late. High school football players in particular will recognize how mixed messages about pushing one's body to the limit can often lead young athletes to make bad choices. Jomo's self-serving rationalizations will resonate with anyone who has faced a difficult moral decision. Profane and scatological language abounds, but it is not outside the realm of what one could hear any day in a school locker room. Top-notch sports fiction.—Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
Kirkus Reviews
Sophomore Jomo Rodgers knows he could be a college-football prospect if he had more size. His best friend Jayson, with great football skills and pro-player size, is constantly getting attention from college scouts. Having little faith that this will happen naturally, Jomo begins taking steroids and revels in the changes he sees and feels in his new physique. Of course, the ill effects of the drugs and dealing with their supplier begin, and Jomo is desperate to cope with the situation. A near tragedy explodes Jomo's secret. This is much more than a cautionary tale about steroid use in high-school students. Jomo is one of a handful of African-American students in a private school, an aspect of the story handled with nuance and insight. The dialogue is smart; Jomo's relationships with his peers, his girlfriend and his college-professor father ring true. Even the limited appearance of Jomo's mother (his parents are experiencing marital difficulties) provides insight into Jomo's personality. A strong narrative and layered characterizations elevate this timely story. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Sold by:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Breathing is a natural process, yet Jomo Rodgers found himself flat on his back trying to remember how to do it. His first spluttering for air felt like someone was driving a spike through his chest.

God, please, he thought. His current condition, and his simple prayer for salvation, was understandable. He had sprinted twenty yards across the field to try to save a touchdown, only to be crushed by a vicious block delivered by a leviathan-cum-humanoidnow-fabulously-heroic farm boy.

Jomo stared up into the blackness of the cold November night. He could see his breath in the air, frustrated bursts of whiteness blown out in nonrhythmic spurts. Th e fl ash of fl aring neurons in his frontal lobe caused the familiar illusion of stars bursting around him.

He felt and heard nothing after the initial blow. There was just stillness. Pain works at its own speed. Slowly, then quickly, he grew aware of each stab, throb, and burn.

Jomo took in each new sensation while lying like fresh roadkill. His fingers stung from banging against the leviathan's helmet. He noticed the strangeness of sweat drying on his skin in the frigid air. It had been thirty-three degrees at game time. It was much colder now. Jomo flexed his right ankle, and the pain that surged through him could be quantified as several notches above Ow on a pain chart, but below Morphine cocktail, stat! His mouthpiece was gone. The salty taste of blood filled his mouth. His lip was busted, and there was a knot on the bottom of his tongue.

"Jomo! Jomo! Dude, you all right?"

Jomo couldn't seem to concentrate on anything outside his own head. It took him a moment to focus. It was Calvin Reynolds, a goofy, wide-eyed, big-butt defensive tackle. Calvin had gotten manhandled on the line, allowing the Madison County running back to fly out of the backfield for a sixty-yard touchdown. But more to the point for Jomo, if Calvin had done his job, Jomo wouldn't be on the ground. At least that was how Jomo saw it.

"Dude, how many fingers am I holding up?" Calvin asked. His fingers were inches from Jomo's face mask.

"Ass...hole," Jomo managed in a tone that was less malicious than the curse implied.

Calvin rolled down his index and ring fingers, as well as his pinky, and then flipped his hand to give Jomo the bird.

"The answer was four," he said, before thumping a knuckle onto the chest plate of Jomo's shoulder pad. "You'll live, bitch."

Calvin and Dr. Hyde — the team's physician who confirmed that Jomo was scrambled but not concussed — lifted Jomo off the turf. It was then that Jomo got a blurry look at the Madison County stadium scoreboard and saw the inevitable lightness of suckitude: fourth quarter, three minutes, thirtyfive seconds left in the game; Cranmer 17, Madison County 40. Game over, season over. The team that had had so much promise just got punked big-time in the sectional final.

As he limped to the sidelines, Jomo raised his right hand in acknowledgment of the claps of support from the crowd, the opposing team, and his teammates. His embarrassment kept him from looking up.

"You all right?" he heard.

Jomo lifted his head and grinned at Jayson Caldwell, his best friend, Cranmer's star running back, and the most talented player on the team and possibly in the state. Jayson, who was hobbling over from the bench, had scored Cranmer's only two touchdowns before going out in the middle of the third quarter with a groin strain; they nearly had to tape him to the bench to keep him from trying to get back into the game. Jayson had kept it close until he went out.

Jomo thought how odd it was that Jayson was even in a mood to talk. After losses, Jayson was usually nearly inconsolable. ut this game, like the season, had worn everyone out.

Jomo plopped onto the cold metal bench. A team manager gingerly began taping an ice pack to his ankle.

"Damn," Jayson said as he sat down next to him. He started sniffing the air. "Damn, I seriously think he knocked the shit out of you." He smiled and tapped Jomo's shoulder pad. "You a'ight, kid?

"My hair hurts," Jomo said, which made the trainer chuckle lightly but not loudly.

"I can't help that," the trainer told Jomo.

Jomo nodded and sucked in some cold air and took solace in the fact that he hadn't been seriously injured. He thought about what he'd done right on this night — eleven solo tackles and two tipped passes. But he'd been torched on a long bomb that set up a touchdown and missed a tackle on third-and-long that sustained a scoring drive. From the first day Jomo had put on pads when he was a middle schooler, he had been told that Cranmer football was about results, and the philosophy was fairly binary: Wins are good, losses are bad. While coaches appreciate effort, the final score is all that matters.

"Do you remember them being this big last year?" Jomo asked. "I know I played against some of these guys in freshman football and they weren't that big."

"They either feed them a whole lot or...," Jayson said, before shaping his fingers around an imaginary syringe and plunging it into his arm. Then he waved his hands in the air in disgust.

Juicing, Jomo thought. Figures. "Did Coach even do anything when I was lying out there?" Jomo asked.

"Nah," Jayson said. "He was screaming into his headset about how busted the whole play looked. I thought he was going to have a stroke."

Jomo was dumbfounded. Screw him, he decided as he eyed up Coach McPherson, who was still, even as the game was quickly coming to a close, barking out orders.

"Classic," Jomo fumed, remembering Reginald McPherson's concern when Jayson went down. Jomo took a swig of water, swished it around his mouth, and spit out a mixture of blood and water. "I ran my ass off to stop a touchdown. I got blindsided by some corn-fed guy who probably bench-presses tractors. What do I get? Not a damn thing. No clap. No back slap. No nothing. Screw him!"

"Tried but didn't," Jayson said. "What did you want? A hug and a kiss? You know how he is. Soft as a brick, baby."

"Yeah, well." Jomo sighed. He took another gulp from the water bottle.

"Where's the frickin' punt team, for Pete's sake?" McPherson was snarling, glaring at the team, slamming his play chart to the ground. "We've been four-and-out most the night, so you'd think you all would have this down pat."

Jomo watched the mess before him. It was incomprehensible. McPherson's teams were known for going down swinging. These guys were packing it in and didn't care. It didn't get better. The line didn't block, and Denny Walsh, normally a good punter, rushed his kick. It was a twenty-yard fluttering duck that rolled out of bounds, setting up Madison for good field position inside Cranmer territory.

One play later Madison scored on a screen play that made Cranmer's players look like they couldn't hit a tackling dummy. McPherson threw up his hands. Madison was pouring it onto ranmer.

Cranmer's defensive unit jogged off the field, shouting at each other about dogging it, pointing fingers, grabbing jerseys. Then someone let loose a sarcastic laugh. It was as undisciplined a team as Jomo had ever seen.

"My God. It's like watching monkeys fucking footballs! Fucking footballs!" McPherson screamed into his headset before throwing it and kicking it.

People stopped. Jaws dropped. Even the line judge turned to look.

We're now at meltdown, Jomo thought.

As loud and fierce as McPherson was, no one had ever heard him throw an F-bomb. Not on the field. Not on the practice field. Not in locker room or weight room. Not even in intense one-on-one sessions behind closed doors.

"Dawg. Did you...?" Jayson said, leaning into Jomo.

"Yeah, I heard it. He's lost it."

Jomo looked into the crowd. In the seats closest to the field behind the bench were the Dr. Campbell — the headmaster — and the trustees. They were a mass of stern looks and pursed lips. He wondered if they'd heard McPherson's bomb, especially Campbell. Cranmer wasn't the uptight place it had been in, say, the 1950s, but there was decorum to follow, and tossing F-bombs out loud was a no-no.

"It's a funeral," Jomo whispered to Jayson. "It's his funeral."

"Coach hasn't won a state title in five years," Jayson said. "We haven't even had a team make it to semi state in four. Getting rolled at sectionals by Madison, shit, he's got to be feeling the pressure."

"I almost feel sorry for him," Jomo said. "Almost."

The football gods were whipping McPherson, he thought. The campaign would end with a 5-5 record, not bad for any other team that started seven sophomores, including at the key positions of quarterback and running back. In fact, with nearly the entire team coming back, most schools would be thrilled about the future. But this was Cranmer, where football was king. This was Cranmer, coached by a legend with eight state titles and double that number of conference championships. This was Cranmer, where the unofficial motto was "Winning is the thing."

The crowd started counting down from ten; the game was coming to a merciful end. Jomo watched as McPherson sprinted out to shake hands with the opposing coach, then charged past a TV crew, a radio reporter, and two prep sportswriters and headed for the locker room. He rushed past the headmaster and trustees. He even blew off his wife.

"We are so dead," Jomo said as they and the rest of the team shuffled along off the field. The comment was met with a chorus of groans, sighs, some light blaspheming, and scatological references.

"Boys," began Trey McBride. Jomo rolled his eyes; Jayson looked straight ahead. Trey was the starting quarterback, and he'd been picked off three times. "There comes a time when a man stares at the abyss, and he sees himself..."

"Yeah, yeah. He sees himself looking back," Jomo said. "No escape, finds out who he is, blah blah. Yes, we saw that movie in ethics class too."

"No escape from the sustained and deserved ass whippin' we are about to receive," Jayson said as he hobbled toward the locker room.

"Ass whipping deluxe this way, brothers," he added, pointing toward the visitors' locker room door — it was also the girls' locker room, made all the worse by the Madison County's team nickname for its girls' teams, the Lady Golden Beavers.

Jomo was close to making a joke, but he quickly changed his mind when he saw the stone-cold look on McPherson's face.

Copyright © 2009 by Fredrick L. McKissack Jr.

Meet the Author

Fredrick McKissack has nearly 20 years experience as a writer and an editor. His articles, op-eds, and reviews have been published in The Washington Post, Vibe Magazine, and others. He lives in Ft. Wayne, Ind. with his wife, Lisa and their son, Mark.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Shooting Star 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 0 reviews.