The story takes place in a small town, over the course of the 1960-1961 school year. The reader is plunged into the story from the first moments, which take place right in the middle of a football game. However, rather than getting the perspective of the game as a spectator, with typical play by play, the reader is treated to the perspective of the players and other students watching the game. We have insight into players playing through injuries, the quarterback taking into account other players’ personalities (and flaws) while considering plays, the pressure each feels, and the ribbing that goes on throughout. Approximately the first third of the book takes place over the course of this evening and subsequent night. Many events take place which set the stage for the rest of the characters’ senior year, and even their lives.
The more I reflect on this book, the more impressed I am. This is a good story that relates far more than a plot and resolution. The author does an impressive job of depicting the realities, sometimes unflattering, of life in a small town. I was struck how, repeatedly, the adults in the town encourage what would often be considered undesirable behavior, but at that time, in that place, speaking in such a way gave no one pause. The author’s manner of bringing secondary and even passing characters to life is key to the strength of his portrayal of the small town setting and 1960’s culture. This carries through when, at the very end of the book, when we are being given a glimpse of the possible futures each character would live out. I found myself wondering about the young men who entered the military at that time, musing over which would end up in Viet Nam… and which wouldn’t be coming back.
Trigger warning: This book is set in a period when sensitivities were different. There is a significant amount of violence in the book, including violence directed towards women and violence of a sexual nature. Most of it would be illegal in our current culture; virtually none of it would be considered acceptable. While I did not find any of this aspect enjoyable to read, I felt it was integral to understanding the situations and motivations of the characters. If you have difficulty processing these topics, you may wish to avoid this book. For these reasons also, I personally do not recommend this book for teens. Mamas, you may have a teen who is ready for the content in this book; I cannot expect that all teens have sufficient maturity and perspective. I do think this could be an excellent read for anyone college age or older and would encourage such readers to give intentional attention to the values and culture of the time period.