Reviews

BookList *Starred Review*
The author of Crackback (2005) crafts an equally perceptive, triumphant tale—this one centered on a highschool hoops player searching for, and finding, his own road. Liam is dazzled at first by his unexpected elevation to the varsity team, but the shine wears off quickly once he discovers that the coach is leading prayer sessions before each practice and game. Then he sees Darius, who is a star player but the team’s only African American, maneuvered into quitting. Eventually Liam follow suit, after gathering his nerve to contact a watchdog organization. What follows is an eye-opening lesson in what team spirit is really all about. More a decent, average, level-headed kid than an introspective sort or a crusader, Liam struggles with the urge to conform and ultimately finds realistic ways to rebound from self-doubt as well as serious peer and adult pressure. Plainly well acquainted with teenagers as well as b-ball play and lingo, Coy adds subplots and supporting characters to give Liam’s life dimension, but he weaves in plenty of breathlessly compelling game action too.
—John Peters
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-When high school sophomore Liam is called up to play varsity basketball, he finds the team in some distress. Darius, the only black member and the leading offensive player, quits during the half-time of Liam's first game, feeling dissed by the coach. Liam then attends an invitation-only Athletic Fellowship meeting at a teammate's house, where he is manipulated into joining in the reading of a "Champion's Prayer," strengthening his doubts about the amount and kind of prayer that the coach directs at every pregame and half-time. The teen is secure in his Catholic faith, but fears he'll lose playing time, at least, if he rocks the coach's boat. Using the Internet to investigate and then press the separation of church and state, he indeed suffers the wrath of his coach, administration, and former teammates, so that he, too, quits the team. He and Darius are recruited to toughen up the varsity girls' team as they make their run at State. Coached by the art teacher who runs practices akin to a yoga workout and assigns poetry as well as scrimmages is a welcome change for Liam, who makes serious strides both on and off the court. The message that one must choose one's own road is certainly worthy, and the combination of basketball action, Liam's thoughtful responses to off-court issues, and the involvement-and final game-between the boys and girls will appeal to many hoops fans.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
—September 2008 Issue
High-school sophomore Liam Bergstrom is excited to have been called up from JV to play varsity basketball. But Coach Kloss’s team prayers and his subtly racist comments to Liam’s teammate Darius Buckner spur both players to quit the team. To top it off, Liam’s father criticizes him for quitting, and his girlfriend, studying in France, breaks up with him by e-mail. But Liam rebounds and trusts himself to find his own road, with the help of another coach, Darius and the poetry of Walt Whitman. Details of the game don’t always ring true—a bounce pass wouldn’t be “a bullet”; a high-school coach wouldn’t have to explain what boxing out is—but simple, present-tense prose, lively basketball action and the moral tenor of the novel make this a solid choice for sports fans.
StarTribune
from June 27, 2008: "Slaying the boredom dragon for young readers"
Basketball novels for teens provide nail-biting play-by-play action and nuanced portraits of main characters strug- gling to figure out where they fit in on the court and in their lives. High school sophomore Liam, in Minneapolis author Coy's "Box Out," switches midseason from the junior varsity team to varsity. While he's ecstatic about the promotion, he's also troubled by the group prayers his small-town basketball coach insists on before each game.
—Christine Heppermann
St. Paul Pioneer Press

...Liam blows the whistle on the coach—and on his popularity. Everybody's mad at him, including the principal, and ugly stuff is written on his locker. Liam quits the team, but the girls' basketball coach asks him to help the girls practice so they can sharpen their skills on the way to a possible championship. He's joined by Darius, a self-confident African-American player who quit the varsity squad after the coach unfairly chewed him out. To add to Liam's misery, his girlfriend is in France for a semester and her e-mails sound like she's having way too much fun with those foreign guys.

Although Liam's moral decisions are at the heart of this book, Coy keeps the action zipping along, capturing the excitement of basketball in passages that detail every move and free throw in games by both the boys' and girls' teams.

—Maryann Grossman
Children's Literature Network

John Coy returns to the sports genre for his second young adult novel. Sophomore Liam Bergstrom is both thrilled and nervous about being called up to the boy’s varsity basketball team. Coach Kloss wants to utilize Liam’s height to grab rebounds. Liam becomes concerned first when Darius, a quality player, abruptly quits the team, and then when he learns that Coach and then other players lead prayers in practice and games. Liam is pressured to join a morning Christian group along with every other member of the team. Part of the book examines the issues of religion in public school, but Coy does a masterful job of plotting and moves the novel’s main focus away from this conflict. Liam and Darius are asked to help the girls’ basketball team, which opens up a new world for our protagonist. The girls and their coach – “Call me Jack” - have a totally different approach to teamwork, including sharing philosophy and literature. My favorite passage is when Liam’s father recognizes his son quoting Walt Whitman.

“‘I’ve got my own road, Dad. I travel it myself.’

Dad smiles. ‘Whitman. You’ve been reading Whitman?... ‘ He’s one of my favorites,’ Dad says. ‘Mrs. Stabenow is having you read Whitman for English?’

‘No.’ Liam shakes his head. ‘I’m reading him for basketball.’”

The heavy dialogue and subject matter makes this a good choice for both reluctant readers and strong readers who love sports and finding oneself. Chris Crutcher fans will also gravitate towards this book; both Crutcher and Coy are masters at putting the focus on the characters and drawing non-sports fans into the sports genre.

—Rob Reid
Young Adult Library Services Association

Liam is a natural athlete, and his passion is basketball. He looks forward to the day that he can join the elite on varsity, but is willing to settle for junior varsity for now with his best friend, Seth. But a senior injury puts Liam on the varsity team, and now the game is completely different – the speed, the agility, the upperclassmen. And Seth is loving it, especially when he gets to play with Darius, the most skilled varsity player.

But after one game, Darius quits for no reason, and Liam sees how this affects Darius's life. He went from being a star player to being shunned, his friends turning their back on him. Liam doesn't know what to make of that, or of how Coach Kloss handles the situation. But he's enjoying the benefits of being on the team, from a job in the mall to the adoration of his girlfriend dating a varsity player. But there is an undertone of pressure from the coach and players. The Thursday morning athlete breakfast and prayer meetings he needs to participate in. The sweatbands with the HWJC on them…leading prayer before game. Liam begins to notice that some players don't feel comfortable with this, but go along anyway – and then he thinks about Darius and how suddenly he quits.

Caught between being a team player and standing up for his rights, Liam decides to get help from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and makes an ultimate decision that will cause his life to take a downward spiral on and off the court. After the school gets a call to cease and desist, Liam becomes an outcast, just like Darius. But just as he think life can't get any worse, he begins to find out that there are players, coaches and true friends who will stand behind him, even if it wasn't what many others would call the right choice.

This book takes a snapshot of small town life and the pressures of being an athlete, but in a completely opposite spectrum than most people think about. Controversial in nature, prayer on the court or field is highly respected in a small community. John Coy once again hits a solid chord about athletes with his new book, tackling the other side of sports than the one he wrote about in Crackback. In a world of black and white, Coy writes about the grey area. Readers will either cheer or jeer at this book, but the subject is very relevant in student life today. c. 2008, Scholastic Press

—Naomi Bates Librarian, Northwest High School Justin TX
Mr. K-C's Blog

Liam, a sophomore and junior varsity basketball player at Horizon High, gets the call he has been working toward for as long as he can remember. The varsity basketball team needs him because of injuries. If he plays hard and contributes, he has a chance to stay and contribute. He does just that, until he starts to feel unsettled by Coach Kloss's prayers before each game. Liam feels as though he must go along to get along, even if he doesn't believe in what he's saying. Prayer is personal, or so Liam thinks. When Liam puts the focus on this pre-game ritual, things get very personal. Relationships change, his way of thinking is turned upside down. His mom thinks he should confront the coach because a separation between church and state exists. His dad thinks he should ignore it. Liam has a decision to make. Should he just go along to get along, or should he stand up for his principles. It's not that easy. All he ever wanted to do was play varsity ball. He didn't ask for the other issues. But he has to decide whether he will confront them our stay quiet.

Liam's internal conflict is like so many that we face as young adults and adults. When we see something that doesn't seem right, we either ignore it or face it. Do we speak up and face being austricized, or do we stay quiet and go along?

John Coy, the author of Crackback, has written another book that will be devoured by many teen boys. Coy blends basketball terminology with realistic dialogue that presents Liam as a fairly dynamic character. He's not holier-than-thou. He struggles with understanding girls. He jumps to conclusions. He's different in that he starts to question his thinking and the way things are. If you are interested in a well-developed, realistic sports drama presenting a variety of recognizable characters, you'll enjoy Box Out.

—John Klein-Collins
Readingjunky's Reading Roost

Liam Bergstrom is one lucky sophomore. The varsity coach is bringing him up from JV to rebound for the varsity. Another player's bad luck (an injury) has become good luck for Liam. When he starts practicing with the varsity, he gives it everything he has. He wants to make his mark on the team because of his ability, not just because of his height. The coach seems impressed, and Liam spends a fair amount of time off the bench and right in the middle of the action.

Unfortunately, there is one thing about he varsity team that kind of surprises Liam, and to be honest, disappoints him. Before each game and at half-time, the team is required to pray. Coach asks a player to lead the team in prayer, and even though Liam is a practicing Catholic who believes in God and prayer, he feels uncomfortable. In addition to the game prayers, Liam discovers that the team members are expected to attend the HAF (Horizon Athletic Fellowship) meetings as well.

When Liam begins to question the legality of praying at school, several of the players tell him it's just the cost of being part of the team. Liam doesn't like the fact that not everyone on the team may follow Christian beliefs, and he feels hypocritical when he just pretends to participate. When he finally decides to ask the coach about the situation, he gets an answer he later learns was a lie. Having his coach lie to him and then expect him to do something as personal as pray, makes Liam take the issue to the next level.

Bringing the question of separation of church and state to the attention of people beyond the team, stirs up things with his teammates and even the school principal. Liam finds out that asking questions and then standing up for what you believe in is not always the easiest road to take. Liam learns that sacrifices are hard and often costly.

BOX OUT is an excellent book. It provides plenty of play-by-play basketball action, plenty of teenage anxiety involving school, parents, and romantic issues, as well as plenty of possible discussion topics for teens and adults. It is well worth reading.

Author Speaker Educator Back to home page Learn more about John Coy.