Box Out by John Coy
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.