Book Information

Reader Personality Type
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt November 2013
Character-Building Curriculum

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain." -- John Lennon (1970)

"Once I discovered he was [a forward] on the Harding High team, questions 
jumped into my mind. Did Harding have a point guard? Could the guy shoot? 
Could he pass? Could he run a fast break? Did I have a chance to beat 
him out for the starting spot? I didn't ask Levi any of them. I didn't know 
him well enough, not then. Besides, I was afraid of what the answers 
might be. 
"There was a long moment of silence. 'You must also play football,' I 
said, scrambling for another topic, 'Tight end? Linebacker? Quarterback?'
"Levi's mouth turned down, and he shook his head. 'I won't play football. 
It's a sin to hurt another human being on purpose.'
"'A sin?' I asked, not sure I'd heard correctly.
"'Yes. A sin.'
"Was he joking? What kid ever talked about sin? I nearly laughed, but I 
caught myself. I'm glad I did, because if Levi thought I was laughing at 
religion -- at God -- he'd have gone back into that squashed house of his, 
and I'd have never known him. I'd have played on the Harding High team with 
him; but I wouldn't have known him. At the end, everything went wrong. 
But knowing Levi -- being his best friend -- that had been right."

A junior in a high school just outside San Francisco, Jonas Dolan has 
developed into a solid point guard on the varsity basketball team. Not being 
big enough or fast enough to ever dream of playing professionally, Jonas 
figures he'll likely join his dad in working at the local sand and gravel 
plant after graduating. But with Jonas's game getting better and better, his 
coach introduces him to the notion of seeking out an athletic scholarship 
from some Division II college. Coach Russell arranges for Jonas to be filmed 
in action and helps Jonas send out DVD copies to dozens of Division II 
institutions. In response, interest is expressed by a coach across the country 
at Monitor College, but he makes it clear to Jonas -- who has never been 
much of a student -- that he will have to get his academic game on, too, if 
he wants to be considered by Monitor.

Just as Jonas is beginning to get it all together, his father suffers a 
series of bad breaks at work and his parents end up selling the house and 
moving up to Seattle where, after the summer, Jonah will begin his senior year 
at Harding High. Six-six Levi lives down the street from Jonas's new 
home, and the two begin building a solid friendship. They spend the latter 
portion of the summer playing together in informal pick-up games against 
rival high school crews at a nearby community center. And it is at the center 
that they meet twenty-something Ryan Hartwell, who is clearly a former 
player of some sort and who has the teaching ability to really help them polish 
their skills on the court. But it is also clear from his behavior that 
Hartwell is a bit of a sketchy character. Which makes it especially 
surprising when, on the first day of school, he appears at Harding High as a new 
teacher and the new assistant basketball coach. 

"'What would Jesus do?' Levi finally said. 'That's what I ask myself when 
things like this happen. The answer always comes, and then I do what 
Jesus would do.'
"I wondered: Was it really that simple? Who knows? Maybe when Jesus was 
seventeen, he'd have had a beer and watched the babes. I smiled at the 
thought but I didn't say anything to Levi. I knew better than to make that 
kind of joke with him."

Levi is an incredibly fascinating character: The obedient son of a preacher 
who doesn't see value in sports and has never once seen Levi play. A 
tall, solid kid, who has been accepting of all the guys calling him Dumb Dumb. 
A barely-passing student (despite trying really hard) and an 
exceptionally kind human being to everyone who crosses his path. A kid who knows 
everything about everything out in nature, and can produce amazing sketches of 
leaves and woodland creatures -- from memory and drawn from multiple 
perspectives -- but a kid who can barely pass relatively easy tests at school. 
(He'd had to sit out the last month of the previous year's season because of 
his grades.) All this, and his friendship with Jonah, make for such a 
remarkable set-up.

SWAGGER is filled with plenty of on-the-court action -- which will please 
readers who are looking for that -- but it is the off-court issues we 
encounter that really make this one a notable book. 

Among the important issues in SWAGGER is that of sexual predators and 
teens. Here are some facts I found on the website of the California Attorney 
General's office:

"Of sexual assaults against people age 12 and up, approximately 80% of the 
victims know the offender."
"In the majority of cases, abusers gain access to their victims through 
deception and enticement, seldom using force."
"Most child sexual abusers offend against children whom they know and with 
whom they have established a relationship."

This is really important to understand. According to the Attorney 
General, the odds are against a perpetrator being a random stranger. It's far 
most likely to be someone a teen already knows well.

And, yes, this is unquestionably a heavy issue to be laying on 
adolescents. But are we better off leaving adolescents vulnerable and in the dark for 
the sake of not wanting to talk about bad things that they and their 
friends may fall victim to, or do we provide them knowledge that might save a 

It is with this question in mind that I'm strongly advocating the purchase 
and promotion of this powerful high school sports story.

Ages 13 and up

  • 978-0547974590

304 pages
Richie Partington, MLIS
See more of his recommendations at:  
Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (http://richiespicks.com/)

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