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Wrestling Sturbridge Library Binding – July 1, 1997
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Ben will be damned if he's going to stay in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania, when he gets out of high school. Work in the cinder block factory like everyone else? No way. He's also not going to let his friend Al win the state wrestling championship. Ben wants it more than Al does. Ben needs it more than Al does. Ben is going to win. Robert Cormier writes: "in a beautifully understated first novel, Rich Wallace brings the town and the teenager achingly alive as Ben wrestles not only his high school opponents, but with the big issues of life and love and the choices a teenager must make." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The essence of small town America, the heart of the sport of wrestling, the growing pains of adolescence--Wallace pins each perfectly. I enjoyed and appreciated it as much rereading it over a decade later as I did first reading it as a high school wrestler. It's a book any high school wrestler (or former high school wrestler) should appreciate, but the themes are universal and Ben provides enough info to avoid confusion by non-wrestlers (we're informed a takedown is worth two points early on). It avoids the mistake I think too many YA novels (written by adults) make of assuming teenagers spend all their time thinking about adults.
Wrestling Sturbridge is written in first person entirely from Ben's perspective. It's an ideal POV for a YA novel because, by showing us what our protagonist thinks but not anyone else, we can better grasp the inherent confusion to be a teenager. It doesn't hobble the author's prose the way it can in adult fiction because the language needs to be kept simple anyway. Wallace does so, and in a very short novel makes every word count. The prose sometimes comes ever so close to being trite, but it is always spot on. E.g., "Sturbridge is almost like a stadium--there's a flat two-block-wide valley down the spine of the town, then it rises up on both sides. It's a pit only the strongest crawl out of."
Suddenly it is senior year, and they seem to be living the dream. Well, all except Ben. The previous year it had seemed like he and his friends would rule four consecutive weight classes. Then one of his friends gained weight and moved up into Ben's class, and Ben can't seem to beat him. He can't gain enough weight in muscle to move up beyond his friends, and he can't lose enough weight to drop a class without being too weak to wrestle at all. It is beginning to look to Ben like he may not wrestle this season--unless he is able to beat his friend in a match for the slot on the team. Will Ben have the drive and the ability to earn a varsity position? When his focus is drawn to a new girlfriend, will wrestling even matter to him anymore?
I liked the relationship between Ben and his father, and especially the odd gift Ben's father gives him at the end of the book. I also liked the description of Sturbridge; it was very well set up in this book. I liked the way each chapter started with lists of things that were important to know about Ben, and I especially liked the unpredictable ending.
I didn't really understand the relationship between Ben and Kim. It seemed that all of a sudden they were dating pretty seriously with no real lead-in or explanation.
The plot is whether the wrestler will make his school's varsity squad by knocking off his fellow state-seeded team mate. The subplot, heavily intertwined with the plot, is whether the wrestler can keep his mind off girls so he can wrestle. Unfortunately, much of the subplot is inappropriate for school-aged readers - "I can taste Kim's mouth and her skin" (p132). Adult readers will sense the author has no daughters of his own.
As a retired wrestling coach, I found the subplot unhelpful to the main character. A lesser character, another member of the team, could have been shown to fail at wrestling because of his lack of focus rather than the main character. The author could have shown the rewards for a wrestler that come from perserverance and persistance rather than setting his sights on the mistakes of a loser who is content that he got the girl - "Life is good. I have Kim" (133). The main character hasn't graduated school yet, failed to make varsity when he is good enough to be offered a college scholarship for wrestling, has no plans beyond the moment, and believes "life is good". In short, this is a short manual on what NOT TO DO to be a winner at wrestling.