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Box Out by John Coy

July 26, 2008

Liam Bergstrom has just been called up to his high school’s varsity basketball team from the JV squad because of an injury to another player. He knows he was selected only because the team needed someone to play defense and rebound, so he doesn’t want to make waves when, prior to the start of Liam’s first game on varsity, Coach Kloss leads the team in a prayer.

It’s not that Liam isn’t religious, because he is. But the team prayers and Coach Kloss’s unspoken demand that the entire team join the Horizon Athletic Fellowship (think Fellowship of Christian Athletes) makes him uncomfortable. When Liam tells his parents about the situation, his mother urges him to take action since the prayers are unconstitutional. But no one else on the team seems to have a problem with it. Some of the guys are truly religious and believe in the concept of team prayer; others just go along with it to make sure they get their playing time and to avoid getting on the coach’s bad side.

I really wanted to like Box Out. I thoroughly enjoyed John Coy‘s previous book, Crackback, and the topic of sports and religion intrigued me. Thing is, the team prayers just seemed like an excuse to have Liam quit the team to make some new friends and reconsider his appreciation of, and motivations for playing, basketball. While Liam’s religion was referenced in the first half of the book, with him going to church and praying at night, I can’t remember any of that happening in the second half of the book. I suppose I’m a bad person to judge, because I’m not religious and come from a non-religious family, but I would have thought Liam’s struggle with the team prayers would be more difficult, more meaningful. Instead, it was a pretty straightforward “it’s wrong and illegal and needs to stop.”

I think part of the problem can be traced to the third-person present tense narration. At least as it’s used in this book, it makes for exciting, action-packed basketball scenes, but didn’t work so well when Coy tried to explore Liam’s feelings. In the end, I liked Box Out a lot more than I should have, considering my criticisms of the book. But it’s still not as good as Crackback.

Also reviewed at Readingjunky and YA Books and More.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2008 6:27 pm

    ‘Allo, YA YA YAs, I’ve nominated y’all for an award! Thanks for making a great blog that I always look forward to reading! :)

  2. July 27, 2008 2:32 am

    I recently heard of a real-life scenario which is much like this — I’m a little horrified that the FCA, which was just a benign small thing on the West Coast when I was growing up, sounds so completely out of control. I’m disappointed that this novel doesn’t sound quite like it lived up to its premise, but I’m happy to hear about it anyway.

  3. July 27, 2008 7:02 pm

    Abby – Wow, thanks for the compliment!

    TadMack – It’s interesting because the publisher’s description doesn’t mention the prayer issue at all. (The LC summary on the verso does, however.) So I’m not sure if it was supposed to be as important as I wanted it to be or if Scholastic was playing it safe by downplaying the religious factor. But the resolution just seemed too simplistic.

  4. July 28, 2008 11:57 am

    I actually put this one down a few chapters in. It didn’t grab me. I was also disappointed like you, because I had really enjoyed Crackback.

  5. Julie permalink
    August 18, 2008 5:11 am

    The issue of prayer in public school is a key part of this novel, but other factors influence Liam Bergstrom’s decisions and school life. Though his faith life may not be mentioned in the book’s second half, his challenge of Coach Kloss’s use of pre-game prayer remains, as well as his attempt to understand the hypocritical behavior of teammates who play the prayer game simply to keep a spot on varsity.

    There are so many issues in this book that I felt would engage young adult readers: the unconditional acceptance of authority and how challenging that can be for a young person concerned about moral behavior, the racist attitudes and behavior on the part of a coach, the untrustworthy acts on the part of some adults to wrongly reassure children, and the ultimately redeeming qualities of acceptance and team work demonstrated by other adults. John Coy’s dialogue and plot development show his obvious work with young adults as he wrote a compelling, realistic story.

  6. zayvon watkins permalink
    November 3, 2009 6:26 pm

    Box Out is a great book. The moral of the story which was to stick up for what you believe in. Box Out is about a teenager named Liam Bergstorm, who has to struggle with prayer in his school. The issue of prayer in public school is a key part of this book, but other factors influence Liam’s decisions and school life.
    This book is good for readers who want to understand what it means to stand up for what you believe in no matter the consequences. He was recently moved up to play on the varsity basketball team. Though his faith in life may not be mentioned in the book but, his challenge of Coach Kloss’s use of pre-game prayer remains, as well as his attempt to understand the behavior of teammates who play the prayer game to stay on the varsity basketball team.
    There are many issues in this book that I felt would engage young adult readers such as, challenges that concern young people about moral behavior, the racist attitudes and behavior on the part of a coach, and the constant need of acceptance and team work demonstrated by other adults. John Coy’s dialogue and plot development shows that he works with young adults and wrote a compelling, realistic story on the types of thing that goes on in many schools.

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