cover image Wrestling Sturbridge

Wrestling Sturbridge

Rich Wallace. Alfred A. Knopf, $17 (133pp) ISBN 978-0-679-87803-2

Anyone even remotely curious about small-town America need look no further than this exemplary first novel. Wallace's clipped, gently sardonic prose captures it all, from the red-faced former jocks in the wrestling booster club, to the teens with nothing to do but drink (a lot) and drive in an endless loop through town, to the Saturday night polka party on public TV. Narrator Ben, a high school senior, doesn't want to be like his father and so many others in Sturbridge, Pa., who after graduating get a job at the cinder block plant. Seemingly his only alternative is to become a state wrestling champion and thus win an athletic scholarship. But his way is firmly blocked by his buddy Al, who reigns supreme in their weight class, and Ben is relegated to the ignominy of being Al's practice partner and a benchwarmer during tournaments. Enter Kim, a Puerto Rican track enthusiast transplanted from New Jersey. Despite their close relationship, Kim won't put up with Ben's self-pitying, defeatist attitude. Wallace isn't writing a sports fairy story, so Ben doesn't achieve his goal; much more believably, he feels like a winner because he finally tries with all his might. The sports angle makes this a great ""guy's"" book, while the gripping narrative and feisty heroine will appeal to young women, too. A real winner. Ages 12-17. (June)