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Review: Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace

Title: Muckers
Author: Sandra Neil Wallace
Year Published: 2013

Genre: YA sports fiction
Pages: 274
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Arizona)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my school library

Summary (from the inside flap of the book):  So much is riding on Red O'Sullivan's scrawny shoulders. The football season. His family's legacy. Maybe the entire identity of a hardscrabble Arizona mining town that's clinging to the side of a mountain and fighting for its life.

The copper veins are used up, and the town can't exist without the mine. When the mine goes, the town goes. And so does the high school. That means Read's team, the 1950 Hatley Muckers, will be the last to play football for their school. On paper, there's no way they should win: they're the smallest team in the state, with barely enough players to field a squad. But Red knows sometimes you just have to dig deeper into the muck to find a way to win.

Review: Books (and movies) about sports teams that are underdogs are definitely my kind of book! I love getting to know the characters and their struggles, hoping that the fairy tale ending will happen, and learning about a community along the way. Muckers is that kind of book.

Hatley is based on the real Arizona town of Jerome, a town falling apart as the copper mines ran out of copper. Wallace did a wonderful job of showing the community of Hatley in 1950, dealing with the love of football, a failing economy, alcoholism, and racism. Her inclusion of Red and his best friend Cruz demonstrates well the segregation in the 1950s as the Mexican towns people lived in the Barrio and had Wednesdays to swim in the public pool (the pool was even drained and washed for a day before whites swam in it again). Hatley is a town like so many others in America that have such a tough time as a mine, factor, or other industry disappears. And, like so many other towns, football is what brings people together.

Red O'Sullivan is a great main character. He is quiet and unassuming, yet strong and sure in his beliefs. He feels the pressure to perform as Hatley's quarterback as his brother, Bobby, did before him. Like many others, Bobby died in war, leaving behind a shattered family and a town with a long memory. As the Korean War heats up, Hatley again sends off its young men to fight overseas. Each character in this novel serves an important purpose: the caring high school principal who fights against segregation (and who in real life provided the letters and background for the novel); the beloved coach who pushes the boys to be the best athletes and people that can be; the hard-working miners; the Catholic church and its unforgiving priest; and the high school students and players who want to have one last victory before their school closes.

I feel like I really got to know the town and its population reading this book and I loved the multi-page author's note at the end revealing where she got the material for this novel (from the real people in Jerome, Arizona).

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