Jerry B. Jenkins, Author . Warner $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-446-52902-0

The author of the blockbuster apocalyptic Left Behind series scores points here in his first novel for Warner's new Christian line, penning a homey, feel-good story about a small town's former championship football team. Athens City, Ala., is gasping for breath—businesses are closing, people are leaving in droves and Athens City High is playing its last football season before the school is consolidated. Assistant coach Cal Sawyer narrates most of the book in a comfortable, rambling drawl. He's raising his teenage daughter, Rachel, alone, while engaged in an uphill battle to keep the American Leather Football Company afloat. When Rachel befriends player Elvis Presley Jackson, she finds herself forced to address questions of faith and loss that she has only glossed over in the past. Jenkins relies more on dialogue than descriptive settings, but his trademark ability to bond readers with characters is in strong evidence here. Loose ends are wrapped up into a happy, made-for-the-big-screen ending—albeit with a bit of a twist—which should appeal to Left Behind readers who enjoy knowing that the end of the story is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The short epilogue, however, is anti-climatic. While there's nothing here that will pull readers out of their comfort zones, this is a pleasing read that should nimbly cross over between the general and Christian markets. (Sept.)

Forecast:The Left Behind series hasn't sold 40 million copies for naught—this stand-alone novel will be promoted to the hilt. Print advertising is planned for USA Today, People, Sports Illustrated, Southern Living and various Christian magazines. Guideposts plans a direct-mail promotion to 1.6 million homes, and Jenkins Entertainment has filmed a movie version that will have its theatrical release this fall.

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
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