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 20.2.
I don’t know much about football, but the opening scene of Eric Howling’s Red Zone Rivals seems to carry the excitement fans—and players—must feel during tense moments in the game. It certainly engages the reader sufficiently to carry us through meeting Quinn Brown, who doesn’t start out with a very attractive attitude. His hubris loses him the affection of his girlfriend, Emma, and we can see that he has some learning to do both on and off the field. Fortunately, Howling craftily leads Quinn into and through situations that ring true; the lessons he learns are solid and in keeping with the psychological space a high-school football star might find himself in.
Slightly stereotypically, Quinn is a great quarterback, but a lousy math student. When he finally accepts his need for a tutor, he is assigned to Walker, a new student with a limp and a brilliant mind. Quinn had previously taunted Walker for his limp but, conforming to narrative expectations, learns the truth of Walker’s injury as they bond over their math books. When Quinn gets in trouble for throwing the first punch in defending Walker against bullying by his rival quarterback, Luke, we begin to see the changes that losing Emma and knowing Walker have set in motion. And we begin to really like Quinn.
It is not easy to accept punishment for an action you know to be morally right, but Quinn must: and he does so respectfully. His ability to accept the consequence of his action—even when it seems unfair—opens him to accept the guidance their new coach gives and the self-discipline demanded of Walker’s tutoring. The lessons he learns are part of what we all hope our children will learn in high school, and one of the reasons some parents encourage their children in team sports: the adage “there is no ‘i’ in team,” of course; but more than that, lesson in maturity, ethical principles, and honourable behaviour. Quinn is rewarded not only by his rekindled relationship with Emma, and a growing friendship with Walker, but by knowing himself to have grown in the ways that matter.