Gordon Korman, Author . HarperCollins/Balzer & Bray $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-174228-6

Shortly after moving to a new town, Marcus encounters Charlie, a strange, middle-aged man who turns out to be an incredible football player. Marcus, hoping to be a varsity quarterback at his new school, begins meeting Charlie regularly. Charlie is a challenging and rewarding opponent, but there are mysteries about him that plague Marcus (“It was annoying, but waiting to see if Charlie was going to show up soon became Marcus's personal reality TV show”). Most puzzling: “For some reason, he thought he was a teenager, too.” At school, Marcus loses the quarterback position to school hero Troy—Charlie's son. Troy is oddly guarded about his father, but Marcus eventually figures out Charlie's secret: the repeated blows the former NFL player received resulted in early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Korman (The Juvie Three ) skillfully weaves football terminology into the narrative without making it sound like a playbook, and Marcus's heartfelt loyalty to Charlie is believable, if the plotting is occasionally less so. Despite the athletic focus, this thought-provoking story is, at its core, about friendship and should have broad appeal. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 09/21/2009
Release date: 08/01/2009
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