This book is written as a fictional biography of a fictional young man with an obsession for American football. We follow his life growing up, when his father abandoned them leaving his mother to fend for him and four other children. His mother having to go to work for the first time since her children were born, to try and keep the family together.
We see Xavier go from a teenager experimenting with drinking beer at his friend’s house while playing school football. Until he gets caught by the police and punished by his mother by stopping him play ball. Into his college years, still playing football while trying to get his degree. And yes, starts drinking again even though he is still well under age. The people around him were making it easy to gain access to as much free booze as he could possibly drink.
Even when he starts dating Mary Beth, a trainee nurse who is desperate to control his urges. Nothing seems to stop him from mixing as much drinking as he can around the football training. It never seems to cross his mind that he has a problem, even when he is drunk driving. He just thinks he can handle it. Until something terrible happens, and suddenly he has to face jail time for his drinking issues. The time in jail making him more determined than ever to get his dream of winning a super bowl.
This is a very interesting story, football player turned bad trying to save himself and get to a happier place in his life. It has real potential to be a very good book, and turn into a movie. It just needs a lot of editing before it gets to that stage. As it plays out we have 168 pages of X17’s childhood/college life before it gets to the ‘good stuff’ of some serious consequences to his actions. Which is frankly a little dull, as most of this time is covered in football games.
The author insisted to me that I would have to have a good understanding of football to be able to understand the book. I disagree, I understand it fully well. 90% of the world knows enough expressions from popular culture to get through this book. It's how it is put together that is the problem. Firstly, why put so much of Xavier’s early years at the front of the book? That is going to bore your reader and send them packing before you get to the halfway point. You should start with, the ‘issue’ that brought X17 to face jail time and then slowly start showing what happened to get him there. Or at least pick A peak of his addiction, if it isn’t THE peak before we get bogged down too much. Think Sandra Bullock in 28 days.
Secondly, I would cut at least 30% of the football games out. This isn’t a sports magazine, it is a fictional book. At the 19th very samey football game your eyes very quickly start skim reading to something different. Instead, I would increase the human side of the book by 50%. Show Xavier having real health problems, real issues with his training from the abuse he is putting his body through. Go into more detail of the prison time, not just a fast chapter and back to football games. Spend time over his AA sessions, and healing. Show his personal growth, not just oh I wish I had realised I was wrong! What if I had taken people’s advice seriously? It makes him sound whiney, not the strong person he must have been to overcome everything like he has.
You want to root for the main character, you want to wish him well and be desperate for him to succeed. That is how you pull a book like this off and move it into a movie/TV deal. Whereas here, I am very sorry to say I just wanted him to shut up. I know this is the writer’s debut novel, shown in a large amount of repetition in the piece. He will learn more as he goes forward. I just only hope in a few years, that he comes back to this piece and rewrites it as the fantastic book I know it could ultimately be.
For now, I can only give it 3/5
Sarah Beth James