cover image Playing Without the Ball

Playing Without the Ball

Rich Wallace. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-679-88672-3

Demonstrating once again his gift for combining taut sports action with understated but convincing characterization, Wallace returns to the same small Pennsylvania town from Wrestling Sturbridge and Shots on Goal. Seventeen-year-old Jay McLeod's mother left when he was nine, and his father has just moved to Los Angeles. Jay decides to stay behind until June in order to play varsity basketball, knowing that as a ""borderline"" player, it may be his last. He's shocked when the coach cuts him from the team, but isn't quite ready to leave Sturbridge just yet. Jay knows plenty of reasons to stay: his friend Spit, a gifted punk-rock singer with even more family baggage than Jay; the new church basketball league, whose players may not be as accomplished as the school team's but are just as committed and competitive; and the chance to figure out just where he might be headed. Wallace's detailed play-by-play descriptions deftly capture the rush felt by players deep in a game, anywhere and at any level; with equal skill, the author limns the resilient Jay and his realistically awkward and tentative forays into romance. A novel rebounding with pleasures for YA readers of all types. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)