February 12, 2016

Betting Game

by Heather M. O'Connor
Orca Book Publishers
216 pp.
Ages 10+
October 2015

I've never been much for sports-based fiction, assuming that the plot and characters will be less than stellar when focusing on a sport and its logistics.  And it can be even worse if it is a sport with which I am not familiar.  But, though I'm not a big soccer fan, Betting Game easily captivated my interest with its action and suspense and honest teen characters.

Seventeen-year-old Jack and his brother Alex are very earnest about soccer, attending the Durham Lancers Soccer Academy, aspiring to positions in professional leagues.  Alex is the current captain and takes his responsibility very seriously while Jack is doing co-op with the Lancers' physio team, getting an inside track on injuries and the status of the players.  Not surprising then, when Jack meets a bookie, Luka, through his father at a Lancers game, Jack doesn't tell Alex about it.  Though Jack is chagrined when his dad shares with Luka Jack's successes on fantasy soccer online, Jack is finessed into dishing about the team himself and into placing his first real bet.
My first real bet.  It bumps the game up to a whole new level. Like watching a movie on IMAX instead of a laptop.  Or hearing your favorite band live.  No wonder people bet on sports. (pg. 27-8)
 As with all gambling, the successes beget further bets and Jack becomes both a benefactor of Luka's generosity and ultimately a victim of this relationship.  Meanwhile, the boys' team is learning to work with its new striker, Gil, and Alex, as captain, is distracted, leading Jack to get further and further into Luka's betting game.  

Heather M. O'Connor, an author whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the Ontario Library Association's recent SuperConference, has no trouble grabbing the reader's attention with a fast-paced action-filled story.  Betting Game is undoubtedly the kind of read that will grip both sports fans and reluctant readers (at a reading level of 2.0, Betting Game is definitely a hi-lo book).  The story doesn't waste time with extensive prose, having Jack quickly falling deep into the betting game and, though he initially acknowledges the stupidity of his actions, he becomes addicted to the thrill of winning, of having a secret that sets him aside from his brother, and of the self-importance it cultivates in him.  And though hi-lo texts tend to place less emphasis on setting and atmosphere and characters, Betting Game does not lack these elements.  Instead, the story wins the reader over fully with its gripping storyline and its winning ending.  That just goes to show that you can't always bet on how things are going to turn out, whether it be a game, life or a book.

A Teachers' Guide is available from Orca Book Publishers at http://digital.orcabook.com/teachersguides-bettinggame/

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