Deuker, Carl. Gym Candy. Houghton Mifflin, 2007. 313 pages. Tr. $13.65, ISBN: 978-0-618-77713-6
Plot: Mick Johnson is the star running back on his high school football team. He is willing to do anything to up his game and make football his career. It’s no surprise, because Mick never really had a choice. He was weaned on the sport by his father, Mike, who was signed for the NFL yet never really played a game. Now, the father is a radio co-host who is mocked by his partner for being a “third-rounder.” Mike says that he was injured and that’s why he never made it in the pro league. However, Mick is a star and he’s determined to remain one. A trainer has been giving Mick supplements, but he slyly urges him to gain the edge that he needs by taking steroids. Mick is willing to do anything – his father, living vicariously through his son, is so invested in his game that Mick can’t lose, it’s just not an option. When he takes steroids, he gets the edge he desires, but he also acquires all of the famous (and not-so-famous) side effects, prompting a horrific downward spiral.
Critical Evaluation: Full of passion, drama, and great game action, this is one of the very best young adult sports problem novels around. Deuker writes with an intensity that brings readers right onto the playing field, into the gym room, into Mick’s world. The characterization is rich and complex, with Mick’s desire to please his father becoming palpable from the very first chapter. Deuker allows readers to be flies on the wall, unpacking the myriad complex pressures on driven athletes. If others have the edge, why shouldn’t you? If you don’t juice, you will lose, because everyone’s doing it. This is a ripped-from-the-headlines type story that will expose the truths of doping in sports. The plot is taut, the characters are well-developed, and the problem is everywhere.
Reader’s Annotation: Mick Johnson is a champion in the making and he’s willing to do anything to win, but what happens when he tries to gain an edge by doping?
Author bio: Carl Deuker grew up in Mountain View, California. When he was three years old, his salesman father died while travelling and his mother raised their two kids on her own. He played sports in high school and went to Berkeley on a scholarship. There, he majored in English literature and was swept up in the protest movements at the time.
Deuker has been a journalist and a schoolteacher. His books, which use sports as a framework, tackle serious issues and difficult choices.
Genre: Realistic fiction, sports fiction.
Curriculum Ties: PE, Health
Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the issue of sports and doping; talk about the pressures that athletes face.
Talk about the father/son issues and the secret that Mike kept from Mick. How would it feel to find out that your Dad has been lying to you for years?
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 +
Challenge Issues: Drug addiction.
Response: This book does attack the issue of steroids and sports doping, but it tries to understand the problem. Keep the selection policy on hand. Keep positive reviews on hand, and perhaps even have a file with a couple of articles about high profile sports figures and doping that came from mainstream news sources so that you can discuss the fact that this problem is all around us.
Why Included: It discusses a serious problem and it is an especially good book for boys. It gets great reviews from teens.