Remember the TItans. The Blind Side. When the Game Stands Tall. All of these are games I’ve watched (and one of these I’ve watched numerous times). Perhaps I’m an oddity, but I love football movies but dislike watching actual football games. Perhaps it’s because I live in a football-crazy state and get oh-so-tired of all the hype. I don’t know why. (My disinterest in sports isn’t limited to football–I don’t watch any sport. In fact, I am typing this review while I sit at basketball practice with the DLM. Guess what I’m not doing? Yes. Watching.) I thought about that a lot as I read Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson because this book reads like a football movie, and yes, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s the story of Charlie Reynolds, stepson of football celebrity Prester Mack. The Mack family returns to Taper, Florida, to pay their respects to larger-than-life highschool football coach Willie Wisdom, the stereotypical coach who turns boys into men. Within twenty-four hours of being back in Taper, Prester Mack is tapped as Coach Wisdom’s replacement, so the Mack family is back in the swamps and sugar cane fields of Lake Okeechobee for more than just a visit. However, there’s much more to this story than just football; in fact, football is peripheral to the real story, which is by turns a story of family redemption all wrapped up in the stuff of nightmares. The story is obviously inspired by Beowulf with its undead called the Gren and the climax of the story which involves Charlie and his newly-discovered half-brother searching for the Mother. (Confession: I haven’t read Beowulf in two decades, unless you count our jaunt through the ancient world when the girls were wee and we read a summary. Most of what I remember about it can be summed up in a few phrases: lots of unpronouncable names that contain lots of h‘s, fighting, and a very unfamiliar culture. ) Boys of Blur is rife with spiritual imagery and symbols, too, with the overarching idea that forgiveness is preferable to bitterness and anger. This isn’t surprising considering N.D. Wilson’s pedigree, but readers might want to know that this book is published by Random House and isn’t the typical Christian fiction we’re accustomed to. (Or maybe it is? I’m out of the CF loop!) Wilson includes a few mild curse words in the story, and there is no presentation of the Gospel at all. While I was reading it, I kept thinking about Athol Dickson’s book River Rising, not so much because of any message they share but because of the setting (swampland, but Louisiana swampland in Dickson’s book) and the overall feel of the story. One of my favorite things about the story is how well Wilson can turn a phrase. Here are a few images I particularly enjoyed:
The crowd shifted and frayed around the edges. (6)
The other cop was white and even taller than Mack, though he hunched forward around a soft middle that teetered over his belt buckle. He was wearing a sun visor, jeans, mirrored sunglasses, and snakeskin boots. A fat red mustache reclined on his upper lip like an overweight caterpillar too tired to cocoon. (42)
Charlie’s legs should have been tired. He’d run much and eaten little. Smoke still scratched the insides of his throat and lungs. But something deeper was moving his legs now, something ancient and simple and stronger than stars. He was quick, not dead. Time was irrelevant as his legs chewed up the muck, as they strained and bit and spat, as the wind split around his face. He felt as fast as falling rain, his steps a spatter of heavy drops hitting almost at once. (92)
It’s an exciting story and one I’ll pass on to my children when I feel like they can handle the fright factor. I look forward to reading more of N.D. Wilson’s stories. My Louise has read his100 Cupboards a couple of times, but I’ve never made the time for it. Someday! Wilson is definitely an author to watch. (Random House, 2014)
This book was chosen as a finalist in the category speculative fiction for elementary and middle grades.