Tag Team (2013), by W. C. Mack

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.2.

Mack-Tag TeamOwen and Russell are twins, but fraternal rather than identical. Still, they are the only set of twins in the school, and that makes them special: until the “Minnesota twins” (26) arrive. Marcus and Mitchell Matthews are “real twins” (12); their interest value as identical twins, as well as their athletic coordination as a two-person team, immediately raise Owen’s ire: “So, if the perfectly coordinated new transfer students were ‘real twins,’ what did that make us? Fake?” (13). Owen is a star on the Pioneers basketball team; Russell has his own space as an important member of the Masters of the Mind team. Owen and Russell’s world is further shaken when they discover that Marcus and Mitchell are not only athletic, but also top-grade students. While Owen struggles with his jealousy on the court, Russell tries to prevent the Matthews twins from being asked to join the Masters team. Watching Marcus and Mitchell, though, Russell begins to wonder if being an identical twin is actually better than what he and Owen share. When Mitchell—the kinder, more humble of the Matthew twins—is injured out of the game, Russell recruits him for the Masters team, convincing him with difficulty that it will be good for him to have an activity he doesn’t share with his brother. Helping Mitchell to stand up to Marcus and claim some psychological space for himself shows Russell the strength in his relationship with his own twin. Owen, too, comes to realize that he has very little to be jealous about, and all four twins learn that individuality does not preclude closeness, any more than similarities ensure it.

The plot is well structured, the characters interestingly portrayed and certainly consistent. The only thing that bothered me about this book is its overtly American setting and audience. Not that there is anything wrong with books set in the States, but readers who expect to be immersed in an educational setting they are familiar with will be disappointed. The boys play on the Lewis & Clark Pioneers team (obviously Portland); talk is all about American basketball teams and players; Owen’s jealousy over the Matthews’ “letterman jackets” (11) seems a particularly American preoccupation. The numerous little details are not sufficiently generic, and could easily alienate a Canadian reader—should that reader be expecting to see their school experiences reflected back from the pages.

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