Unless you are playing during March Madness where a lose is an automatic ejection from further play, there are two pathways to winning a basketball tournament. You can win your way to the top spot, or you can lose and play the other losers into the winner’s circle.
That’s the way Annie Boots prefers to win, by playing the other losers then besting the winning team in Loser’s Bracket by Chris Crutcher. This route may take a little longer, but it gives her a better chance of meeting up with her family. Perhaps her life is a metaphor for the loser’s bracket, since her deadbeat mom, Nancy can’t quite get her act together enough to keep her dysfunctional family intact. Annie ends up in a foster home where the Howard’s (Momma and Pop) are able to provide her a decent lifestyle. Unfortunately, her slightly older sister Sheila is not so fortunate, being bounced between foster families until she became a parent herself. Little Frankie seems as messed up as his mom and his quirky habits also make him an unlikely candidate for a loving home.
Despite Annie’s assured pathway to success, she can’t forsake her biological family, even if Pop pushes her to do just that, but if her mom or sister just show up at a game, then who can blame her for meeting up with them. The draw of blood is just too strong and no threat can keep them apart, even though everyone agrees that Nancy is a bad influence with her frequent shoplifting and drug use. Sheila isn’t much better and often foists Frankie off on her sis. Luckily Momma doesn’t mind and even has a bunch of playthings stashed away for his frequent visits. They just have to watch for meltdowns where he smears his excrement as if it were caulking, a little habit which is less than endearing. Both Annie and Frankie inexplicably need that link with their birth mothers to stay whole, even though a fresh start would be better for their mental health.
Chris Crutcher has the pulse of today’s youth, so when you find his name on any book, you know that it will be a worthwhile read. He creates complex scenarios reflecting the tangled, mixed up lives of the average teen, many from families which also have a convoluted trajectory. While the main characters in this book are white, Annie’s friends represent the diversity found in the average urban high school. There needs to be more YA books which reflect the nitty gritty of teen life and not the dream family dynamics, which even when their flaws are portrayed are still too far from the norm.
Crutcher, not afraid to show the underside of life including the warts, still finds a pathway to a realistic, yet hopeful conclusion. Warning: This one is full of four letter words reflecting the language commonly heard outside of public settings. Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.