Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review: Stotan!

Title Stotan!
Author Chris Crutcher
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating A

Summary Four high school seniors, the lone members of the Frost High School swim team that is in its final season, embark on a week that will change their lives--Stotan Week. Their coach, the enigmatic and wise Max Il Song, challenges them to give up a week of their Christmas vacation to participate in Stotan (a mix of Stoicism and Spartan stylings) Week. Stotan Week ends up bringing them closer together than they've ever been, and it's a good thing because, around them, everything is falling apart.

First Line "We saw the notice about Stotan Week on the bulletin board just off the deep end of the pool after our early-morning workout today."

Review I love Chris Crutcher. Let me say it again, I love him. I read another book of his that used the bonds of a swim team (albeit a much different swim team) as the backdrop to the lives of teenagers--relationships with each other, relationships with their families, and relationships with the world at large--and loved it too. The guy's pretty much money in the bank, in my book.

You know, going in, that this isn't going to be a book about swimming. Sure, there'll be a ton of swimming going on (and I'm starting to think that swimmers may be some of the hardest working athletes), but the book is never about the swimming. It's about life. And the thing you have to assume when it comes to a Crutcher novel is that life is rarely pretty; those experiences Crutcher had as a child psychologist before becoming an author are impossible to miss.

Here's a run-down of the crappy stuff that goes on around these kids, making for a beautiful book:
1. Domestic abuse
2. Being orphaned at 17 when both parents die in a freak boating accident
3. Having an estranged brother who's known as the town drug supplier
4. Getting beaten up by "cooler" jocks at school... just because they can
5. Being diagnosed with a terminal illness
6. Unrequited love (the essence of the teenage years)

Sounds like an upper, right? Sure, it's not a shiny, happy book, but you can't put it down because you love these guys. Crutcher is so great in creating characters that you warm to, that you fall in love with, that you're sad to see go away when you finally close the book. And the best part is that rarely does Crutcher end with answers--because that's life.

This book is pretty much perfect. The only flaw for me (and hence the lack of the plus after the A) is that I didn't think the female friend of the swim team (a former swimmer herself) was used as well as she could have been. Crutcher alludes to and, at times, comes right out and says that she's really synced up with these guys, an honorary fifth member of the team, if you will, but so much happens that she's not there for, that I just didn't buy it. That should have been edited better because the way she was written (half in, half out) broke up the flow of the bonds that these guys had. That was my only sticking point.

1 comment:

Wonders of Weird said...

Hey, great review of STOTAN! Can I post it on Crutcher's website?

CC's Assistant