Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories by Chris Crutcher [Book Review]

THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS

Now that I’m older, I look back on school years gone by and growing up/coming of age. As with all adults, or most, we think “If only I knew then what I know now.” As youngsters we worried about who liked us and who didn’t like us. I’m not referring to the romantic like. The simplest things in life made us think it will either ruin us for life or make us heroes.

TIME WILL TELL OR HEAL

I wish I could redo a lot of things, one of them being school. Mostly high school. I wasn’t a good student for I hated school. However, it was the best year of my life and the worst. Its funny to think that my only job back then was to go to school and yet I complained, as most kids do. My job today is going to work, paying bills, getting the car fixed, keeping the house up and on and on and on.

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

This is what draws me to young adult books, especially those by Judy Blume. It allows me to escape from the real world and relive those days of junior high and high school. This is also why I enjoyed reading Robert Cormier books. Of all the Judy Blume books my favorite is Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret (1970). I read the book around 2010 or 2011. Yes, I was well into my adult years by then. But it took me back to Margaret’s school age years.

And this why I enjoyed Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher. High school is the them in these collective short stories and what we deemed important during that time. You don’t have to be a jock to be able to relate to the stories or the people. You just have to have gone to high school.

FROM ANGUS TO JOHNNY TO PETEY TO LIONEL AND OTHERS

Angus is the fat kid in school who has to unconventional families (for that time – 1984) and has been voted Home Coming King. He knows it was done as a joke, but soon the joke is on everyone else. However, the journey Angus and us take to get that point hits home.

Johnny has a father who is very controlling and extremely hard on Johnny. Johnny is waiting for the day he can seek revenge on his father and that day arrives, but will revenge be as sweet as he thinks?

Petey is either you or someone you knew in school. He wants to do what’s right, but has a tug of war with himself on what that is. If he pleases this person, then this might happen. If he please someone else, then that might happen. Petey learns you can’t please everyone and that’s OK. He’s willing to take one for the team…Team Petey.

Lionel lost his parents in a boating accident at age 14. He’s been on his own since then as well. Lionel is struggling with the anger he’s held inside for the one person who caused his parents death. Anger with a mixture of high school and the future ahead of you is bad cocktail. Or is it?

These are some of the stories in the book that will take you back to your younger days and school.

Before each story, Crutcher gives a background on where the stories came from which gives even more life to them.

BUT TELEPHONE MAN..

I was going to complain about the use of the N word in the story titled Telephone Man but realized I would be a big hypocrite if I did so. Why? Well because I’ve written a historical fiction novel (still in the works ) about the concentration camps and my book is filled with degrading words the Nazis (and some Germans) would call Jews. Just be forewarned, the story is filled with the N word and not so nice things regarding Asians and anyone else Telephone Man has been taught to hate.

GROWING OLD BUT STAYING YOUNG

This is why I read YA books, to stay young, relive the old days and laugh at myself on how I thought things back then were so serious. Now-a-days, they are trivial. Hind sight is 20/20 but growing old gives you x-ray vision into the past.

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Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories
Author: Chris Crutcher
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (1990); reprinted November 5, 2002
Pages: 208
Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks

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Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Possible Spoiler)

GOODREADS FOR GOOD BOOKS

I belong to a reading challenge group on @goodreads (not sure if I mentioned this in my last book review of Judy Blume’s In An Unlikely Event already already) and September’s book is The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I usually read my books via my iPhone or the Fire HD 6 (getting rid of that and getting an iPad mini soon), but I find a lot of distractions with reading from those devices, mostly with Candy Crush Soda (yeah, I’m hooked liked a fool), so I decided to head to Barnes and Noble and get a hard copy of the book so I could spend Labor Day weekend reading without being distracted.

CHARLIE AND THE LETTERS

The protagonist tells the story via letter he (Charlie) is writing to someone but we don’t know who. He starts his letter off with the date and Dear Friend. He explains in his first letter why he’s writing the letters but doesn’t give a clue as to who the person is. Even at the end of the book we don’t know how the person is he’s writing to, but it doesn’t matter. By the mere fact that he starts each letter with Dear Friend we become that person he is confiding in, and that’s what he’s doing in each of these letters, confiding in us.

We follow Charlie through a year of school (freshman year when we meet Charlie). He introduces us to his friends Patrick, Sam (Patrick’s sister), Bill (Charlie’s English teacher who thinks the world of Charlie), Charlie’s sister, brother and parents and those he comes in contact with. We learn secrets of these people, things that happen to them that only Charlie can share with us and things that happen to Charlie that he can only share with us. There are somethings he won’t tell us, which is fine.

THINGS WE LEARN ABOUT CHARLIE

-Patrick (high school senior) is gay and having a secret affair with Brad, the star quarterback of the school
-Charlie’s sister (high school senior) gets pregnant and has an abortionCharlie has a crush on Sam (but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens with those two)
-Charlie takes LSD, has taken up smoking cigarettes and weed and drinks at times
-Charlie gets a girlfriend and loses that girlfriend and his friends in the process (you have to read the book to understand it more)

We learn how dysfunctional Charlie’s family is but not in a disturbing way. More in a normal dysfunctional way, where the sister hates the brother at times. Father ignores the son at times. No likes Charlie at times. But mostly, we grow to like Charlie right away and hope for the best for him.

ONCE A WALLFLOWER ALWAYS A WALLFLOWER

Although Charlie is a wallflower by nature, he still remains a wallflower in his own way throughout the book when he’s with his friends at parties or at Big Boy. He becomes part of the party while still sitting on the sidelines. He is apart of the many conversations while still sitting on the sidelines. Not physically of course. His letters are detailed that it’s like he was watching everything go down as well be apart of everything.

Charlie has a way of staying positive throughout the letters even when things are going really wrong for him, because he has us to talk to. These letters are a way for him to remain sane through it all the best he can.

Perks reminds me of my high school days and how simple things really were then. Charlie begins realizes this too through the book.

CONFUSION FOR ME TO BE HAD

There were some things I didn’t understand since the book is written between 1991 and 1992. For instance, the time Charlie comes home to find his sister watching Gomer Pyle. Gomer Pyle was in the 70’s. The author fails to tell us if the sister is watching via TVLand or another station that plays old shows. Doesn’t it matter? Yeah, it does to me, but then again, I’m probably being too particular. Charlies bring up VHS tapes, but I had remember this was the early 90’s and that’s what we had then. He talks about writing letters; again, the 90’s and email was not known or used widely then.

I don’t find the 90’s as being that long ago and reading this book really made me realize how primitive (compared to today’s standards) we were. In essence, pen and paper were the tools of the day. Not Facebook, not emails, not Twitter, but pen and paper. There is a point in the book that Charlie is given a typewriter by Sam..a typewriter. Again, it’s the time period. I still think typewriters are great.

Some have Said that Charlie is this generation’s Holden Caulfield from Catcher In The Rye and I strongly disagree. Holden was a rebel from the beginning; Charlie was a loaner and never did become a rebel in my opinion.

This book will resonate with anyone of any age and I feel it will become a favorite among those that are teenagers now when they get older, like Judy Blume books are with us adults now.

You can purchase the book via Amazon or Barnes and Noble in both e-reader format or hardcopy
224 pages broken up into four sections.
Publisher: MTV Books
Release date: 14 August 2012

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