There’s a café in our city with a little “library” that encourages visitors to swap books (leave one, take one), and I’m pretty sure at the moment they have about 4 full sets of all the Twilight series? In any case, on Canada Day, I impulsively did a switcheroo, and got my friend to point at a random book for me to take, which led me to picking up Pop by Gordon Korman. Well, initially it was something like “Vampie Lovers 2” or whatever but I said, I can’t read this if I haven’t read the FIRST one, now can I? But I digress…
Pop is a young adult novel, focused on a teenage boy named Marcus, who has just moved into a new, small town and hopes to join their elite and much-loved high school football team. Of course there is the typical ruffling of feathers and issues really settling in to the new town and being accepted from the team which we come to expect from a lot of YA sports stories, right down to him catching the eye of the gorgeous cheerleader who of course is also the current captain’s ex (but she’s supposed to be different and original from all the other cheerleaders we’ve seen in other stories because she like, actually loves and knows about football). A lot of these hiccups and conflicts work out very predictably, or even just kind of fizzle out without much thought or attention put into them, which was kind of annoying, but ultimately this probably happened as the main plot is focused on Marcus’ relationship with an eccentric older man in town, who happens to be an ex-NFL player known as the “King of Pop”, named Charlie.
Marcus meets Charlie by chance, and Marcus begins training with his new, middle-aged friend in the local park, learning how to do better hits and tackles, which Charlie is a master of. But this older man is a bit eccentric and erratic, which is brushed off as being “quirky” by the local neighbourhood. Yet it is clear that something else is up with Charlie, which we soon learn to be in the form of a degenerative brain disease as a result of too many hits and concussions during his football career. This is a big family secret, yet I couldn’t help but wonder why nobody else in this pretty small town figured it out and put the pieces together based on the way that Charlie acts and interacts with everyone in the novel. It soon becomes Marcus’ big secret as well, as the two get into shenanigans and he tries to not throw this man who doesn’t have all his wits about him under the bus. The novel is clearly trying to tap into some more serious subject matter for the young audience, yet it never quite reaches any emotional depth, even with some twists of fate near the end of the story: everything just kind of shakes out in a reasonably predictable manner.
Some pros I found with this novel is that it’s straightforward, not overly complicated, and definitely tries to include some serious themes in it. Oh, and I also learned a few things about football, so the author clearly knows a thing or two about that! But the cons come in the fact that it just wasn’t that engaging: all the struggles to push the story forward never felt like there was all that much at stake, and then there’s a drastic mood shift at the end as if to make sure there’s at least some kind of emotional response to grab the reader. I also felt like a lot of the characters were just so static, with no real progression or changes. And I couldn’t help but wonder why no one else in the town suspected that Charlie had some brain damage from his career or that his erratic behavior was not normal and that it stayed so secret? Especially given that he was a bit of a local celebrity?
So, I guess at the end of the day I would say this book is fine, but nothing super special that I will remember for a long time. It might catch the interest of some younger readers who don’t want to get into anything too complicated, but more than anything it’s just coming off as a blip of a read for me that I didn’t really connect with at all. Everything just glided along and didn’t really give me anything new or engaging to work with. Que sera sera.