Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Book Review: Hooper by Geoff Herbach (2018)

Adam Reed, formerly Adam Sobieski, spent his childhood in Poland in less-than-ideal circumstances. Now that he has been adopted by Renata, his American mother, he lives in Minnesota and attends the local high school, where he is an up-and-coming basketball star and best friend to outsider Barry, who has a number of family issues himself. Though Adam knows that basketball is his passport to all the good things life has to offer, and has in fact been invited to join a prestigious travel team called the Fury, there are some roadblocks standing between him and success. He lacks confidence in his skills as an English speaker, so he often does not talk to his classmates or teammates, leading them to assume he is either disabled in some way or a snob. He also has problems managing his anger and worries about losing his temper as he sometimes did in Poland, which would jeopardize his career. With the help of Carli Anderson, another basketball star who has great empathy for Adam, and his teammates on the Fury, Adam slowly begins to come to terms with his past and to come into his own as both a person and a basketball player.

I have yet to read a Geoff Herbach book I didn't love. While Hooper is more serious than Herbach's wonderful Stupid Fast trilogy, it is every bit as engrossing and fast-paced. Herbach has such a talent for creating believable characters, and Adam may be his most layered protagonist yet. Though many issues are touched on in this book - identity, diversity, racism, child abuse, immigration - the strength of the main character keeps the story from becoming bogged down in political messages. The motivation to keep reading is not the desire to see how one particular conflict is resolved, but to find out what happens to the endearing Adam in all aspects of his life.

The descriptions of sports in this book are also great. I am not someone who follows sports, but I love sports fiction, and the basketball action in this book is as entertaining as everything else. Herbach does a perfect job of balancing descriptions of plays with Adam's thoughts during games and practices, and even someone like me who knows very little about sports vocabulary has no problem following everything that takes place. Herbach always reminds me of Chris Crutcher; with this book, the comparison becomes even more apt. But whereas Crutcher's characters are often very obvious representations of particular causes and problems, Herbach's Adam is just a completely believable and well-rounded person who happens to face some issues. Even after he ceases to have these problems, he would still be interesting to read about.

Hooper  is geared toward a teen audience, but the content is certainly appropriate for younger readers as well. There is some romance, but nothing particularly steamy, and the interplay between Adam and his teammates is very reminiscent of the way characters interact in Jason Reynolds's middle grade Track series. Kids who like Fred Bowen as fourth and fifth graders could also easily move on to this book in middle school and enjoy it, especially if they are big basketball fans.

It's early in the year, but I'm already fairly certain Hooper will make my list of favorite books of the year. I'd love to see Herbach also receive some award recognition for his consistently excellent writing. Maybe in 2019? Either way, Hooper is a must-read for fans of YA sports novels. (Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Hooper is out today, February 20th.)

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