Man-to-Man – Bill Swan (James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers, Toronto, 2009)
This middle-grade novel features a great balance of sports action and external conflict, thrown into a pressure-cooker setting. Michael Reilly is a talented young lacrosse player, but his small stature is a problem in a game where contact is critical. Michael plays for the Clarington Thunder, a team made up of various players in the league, as an entry in the Ontario Provincial Lacrosse Championships. Trouble is, Michael’s not really playing in the tournament – his coach is reluctant to give him floortime (perhaps out of fear that he’ll get crushed) and to make matters worse, certain members of his own team bully him unmercifully. Michael is miserable – all he wants to do is prove himself. On top of it all, principle rivals Six Nations Warriors are strong and good, and the Thunder knows it has to play its very best in order to scoop the championship out from under the Warriors.
With the final game of the tournament looming and everything on the line, the boys of team Thunder inadvertently set off a storm of events that lead to allegations of lying and racism and ultimately threatens the inclusion of both the Thunder and the Warriors in the tournament. In the midst of the controversy, Michael is called upon to make a really big play and stand up for the truth.
This is a good book for a sports-hungry reader who really likes to feel as if he or she is right in the action scenes. The lacrosse sequences are extremely detailed and fast-paced. The external issues of bullying and racism are ones which readers may identify with as well, and they’re treated with a decent amount of sensitivity, without being excessively preachy.