by Gordon Korman
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars
8th grade football star Chase Ambrose wakes up in the hospital with no memory of why he’s there or even who he is. As he begins to piece things together, he gets the picture: he was a bully and a jerk. Along with his two henchmen/teammates, Aaron and Bear, he terrorized the school. But now with all memory of why he acted that way, he doesn’t really have those impulses anymore. Slowly things start to come back to him – his dad’s encouragement of his football prowess, an enjoyment of the feeling of power, but also the full realization of the effects that his actions have on other people. Chase is suddenly given a chance to start over and to reject that version of himself – the only question is, will he take it, or will he go back to his old ways?
So. I picked this up because of the premise and I was curious to see how Korman pulled it off and resolved things. It definitely builds to a climax and then everything comes together, but, as with the last book I reviewed on here, it just sort of cuts away and comes back in an epilogue of sorts where everything has settled down and you don’t REALLY get to see how the character changes. In Chase’s case, the person he has wronged at the end of the story, a Korean war veteran whose Medal of Honor he stole before the accident, comes to the rescue. There were certain mysteries that I didn’t see coming, and one or two that I saw coming slightly, but in general things came together nicely.
The most intriguing character to me was Chase’s dad. He was a middle school and high school football star and had high hopes for Chase’s older brother, who didn’t turn out to be a football player. It sounds like some backstory with the dad has a lot to do with why Chase turned out the way he did. Maybe his dad pushing him to be more aggressive, to celebrate his athletic achievements (and he is clearly a natural at football), and to focus solely on fulfilling his dad’s own dreams of back-to-back championships at the expense of everything else. Maybe Chase’s bullying is a defensive mechanism for the hurt he felt at his parents’ divorce, and his dad’s attitude about softness never left him any room to explore those feelings and work through it. Even with his own young daughter terrified of her half-brother, he still thinks that Chase caring about and trying to rectify that by playing Barbies with her is “soft.” In Chase’s case, he gets to just start over completely and never has to work through any of that stuff – or at least, not by the time the book ends. He and his dad do have a small heart-to-heart, which I guess will suffice for a middle school book.
I was hoping to do this one for my 4th and 5th grade book club, but there might be too much “middle school” and crushes stuff. Also, the trouble they get in goes way beyond parents and principals to court dates and judges, community service and threats of juvenile detention. I did like the stuff about the war veteran and visiting the elderly, and how Chase was able to make amends with the kid he bullied most severely, Joel (and Joel’s twin sister, Shoshanna). One thing that irked me was that, for all his experience writing for kids, Korman used a few phrases that just hit my ear as WAY too adult. It was also an awesome opportunity to really get into the head of a bully and figure out why they do what they do, and Korman dropped that ball.