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Geese Are Never Swans
With empathy and vigor, writer Clark, working from a concept developed by the late basketball star Bryant, crafts a welcome update to the narrative of a troubled teen finding meaning in sports. When college swimming star Danny Bennett dies by suicide, his 16-year-old brother, Gus, is caught in a maelstrom of rage, sorrow, and relief. Having lived in his brother’s shadow for years, Gus is saddled with self-doubt, ambition that sometimes drives him to push himself too hard, and a strained relationship with his mother. After Danny’s death, Gus is determined to show he can be an even better swimmer than his brother was. Landing himself a spot on the team of Coach Marks, the coveted trainer who worked with Danny, Gus pushes himself—both physically and mentally—to a breaking point.

Gus’s story is as sharply efficient as a swimmer’s strokes, brutal and serious where it counts. His self-aware narration lays bare his pitch-perfect teen tough attitude (“The only thing worse than having to talk about my feelings is listening to someone else pretend to understand them”) as well as his capacity for profound depth of feeling and insight into both sports and human nature (“Parents don’t like to face hard truths about the kids they love”). Readers will cheer him on as he learns to stop fighting himself and the people who are trying to help him.

The story belongs to Gus and only Gus; very little time is spent on description, and side characters exist to illuminate his personality and give him something to want or push against. Readers won’t mind spending so much time in his head, as the authors handle his complicated emotions with care and aplomb and keep the action moving through short, brisk chapters and vivid sensory descriptions. Like Gus, this punchy young adult novel is a winner.

Takeaway: Teen athletes longing to be seen as more than their trophies will cherish this young man’s journey of athletic success and personal healing.

Great for fans of Kwame Alexander’s Crossover series, Mike Lupica.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A