One Shot Away. The tagline for this teen novel is "A Wrestling Story", but it is much more than a tale of competition amongst a high school wrestling team.
Though their hardships are especially dismal - Diggy is struggling to make weight while dealing with a father who acts more like an abusive and monomaniacal coach than support figure; Jimmy, the star athlete, could face jail time and lose his posh girlfriend for doing his dad a shady favor; Trevor has to balance the death of his father and perceived betrayal of his mother all while fending off a jealous teammate who will go to great lengths to make sure he doesn't control their weight class - the three main characters are sympathetic and their circumstances paint a hyperbolic picture of universal senior year struggles, thus making the book appeal to an audience far wider than high school wrestlers and fans.
The book gave me an exciting glimpse into the lives of people I didn't know in high school. I knew my school had a wrestling team, but I didn't know anyone on it, nor did I realize what a commitment the sport was -- counting every calorie, working out obsessively, competition amongst your teammates as well as your competitors. It's intriguing. And the prose read like a fast-paced movie and kept me hooked -- my heartbeat accelerated right on cue as I held my breath during the climax of the novel when you're not sure if one of the characters will live or die during a cold-weather drowning incident. Coughlin's prose is fast-paced, articulate, smart and exciting! (A refreshing departure from the dumbed down, repetitive, dialogue-heavy prose of popular teen novels like *cough cough* the Twilight series.)
For someone like me, more than a decade beyond high school problems, Coughlin makes it easy to reflect on the time in your life when you realize your parents are flawed and are responsible for your flaws, when the activities you do after school define who you are to the point where you can't imagine life any other way, when a prank can leave devastating effects, and when graduation looms, that feeling of melancholy that resides in you when you realize you don't have to look back on HS life if you don't want to.
One Shot Away is recommended for teen boys, and I think this is a great book for parents to read with their sons. Parent/child relationships are in the background of each character's struggle and could be used as a jumping off point for discussing your own relationships. I know it's difficult to get high school aged kids to read for fun. I think this book could remind them that quality literature can be cool - this book is gritty, honest, even a bit sexy (there is mention of "hooking up" and one minor character happens to be a motel prostitute but its all a very tame PG/PG-13). Definitely check it out!
One Shot Away will be released on October 2nd and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Read an excerpt here.
Disclosure: I was provided an advanced copy from Harper Collins' Teen for review purposes. The author is a family member but we never discussed the book's themes and all opinions expressed are my own.