I've always been a fan of non-fiction (it's all about the pictures!) and I love the passion behind the game of football. It also didn't hurt that my son's football season had gotten me all pumped up about the game on a personal level. So this book seemed like the perfect fit for me. I picked it up at SIBA (signed!) and it was an OKRA pick as well. With the subtitle "Race, Football and the Soul of an American City", how on earth could I go wrong?
Synopsis: Jay Jennings, originally from Little Rock Arkansas, has returned to his roots to tell the story of his hometown. Little Rock, in fact, is steeped in a rich history of racial unrest that started in the early 1900's with lynchings, and progressed to its pinnacle in 1957, when nine African American students faced an angry mob at an all-white Central High school after desegregation was enforced.
Folding in the state's biggest passion - football - Jennings follows the 2007 Central High School team, surprisingly when racial tensions still exist, both on and off the field. He brings the reader inside the locker room of long-time coach Bernie Cox, a tough nut and old-school motivator. Despite all of his successes over the years, Cox struggles to find a way to inspire this particular team to work together, to take the game seriously, and walk the straight and narrow, resulting in a year of extreme highs and lows.
My thoughts: The elements in this book are all fundamentally sound. Racial struggles in the South, the division of a town into the right and wrong side of the interstate, the religion of football, the fierce leadership of a coach that loves his players like sons. But somehow it all fell flat for me.
There was a great deal of detail in the town's history, and while I was horrified at the unfair treatment of blacks, the prose felt more clinical and proper than emotional. I found that I was much more engaged in the segments about Central's fight for a winning season, but I never felt compelled to pick up the book and keep reading. It took me 2 1/2 weeks to read 250 pages.
I also felt like there was little synchronicity between the history of Little Rock's racial struggles and the plight of the 2007 Central High School football team. Both were interesting stories individually, but the jump between the two seemed jerky and did not flow. I'd build up momentum on a story about an exciting football game, then the narrative would stop and focus on a piece of the town's history.
Perhaps I was not the right type of person to read this book. I kept asking myself what I was missing, as it was an OKRA pick. If I were attached to the city of Little Rock in some way, it might have had more impact. I can imagine the thrill in reading this book if I had grown up there. But as it stood, I was unable to invest in the story.
2.5 out of 5 stars