cover image The Obstacle Course

The Obstacle Course

J. F. Freedman. Viking Books, $21.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85346-5

Set in southern Maryland during the first three months of 1957, this excellent novel by the author of Against the Wind is a first-person narrative by 14-year-old Roy Poole, who runs the obstacle course at nearby Annapolis and hopes to become a midshipman. But his father is an alcoholic, his mother a non-presence in the household and his grades are low--deliberately so, because kids with good grades are ostracized in Roy's peer-pressured world. A chance meeting with a retired admiral gives Roy the opportunity to realize his dream of attending Annapolis, but neither his peers nor his elders believe that he can rise above their preconceptions about him. Not looking forward to an existence like that of his family and friends, keenly aware of how out of place he is in any better life, Roy is an authentic adolescent: confused, eager, honest and alive. Freedman nails the teenage state of mind, for which being humiliated in math class or laughed at by friends is nothing less than the end of the world, and tells a wonderfully truthful tale about youthful choice and change, examining how each is controlled by adults. Readers can't help but care for the appealing main character, root for him and wonder what kind of an adult he will be. 35,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild selection; author tour. (Jan.)