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Russ Thompson
Knocked Down
HI-LOW NOVEL FOR RELUCTANT TEEN READERS. Tennison (Ten Cent) Sanders is a gifted high-school football player with the talent to make it in the pros someday. But he throws it all away by making bad decisions that jeopardize himself, his family, his team, and his education. Does he learn from his mistakes and move forward, or does he continue to knock himself down?
In the fifth installment of Thompson’s Finding Forward series—a collection of novels for reluctant and struggling teen readers—he charts the ups and downs of a troubled young athlete’s high school years. Convinced that he is going to be drafted into the NFL during college, Tennison Sanders cares very little about school. But when he’s caught plagiarizing a report from the internet, he’s forced to start putting in the effort to pass his classes or give up on his dream of playing football. What follows is a tale of cheating, theft, lying, and bad decisions, but in the end, Tennison learns the importance of being honest.

Tennison stands out as a slacker with a know-it-all attitude, smugly certain that he’s got it all figured out, but behind those pretenses is a young man with an abiding passion for football. Tennison’s desire to right his wrongs during the latter part of the story sends a powerful message to young readers: anyone can move past their mistakes, with a little humility, reform, and honesty. Readers will empathize with Tennison as they follow his journey and watch him learn to deal with his past decisions while fighting to become a better person, even if that means giving up what he loves the most. In his own words, “It wasn't fun getting knocked down. But I got up again.”

While Tennison’s decisions can be difficult to comprehend at times, Thompson’s story is well thought out and moving, and the overall message of being honest regardless of the cost is skillfully woven throughout, culminating in an explosive flare of truth-telling that lands Tennison back on the right path. Readers will be invested in Tennison’s outcome, whether that’s in his classes, on the football field, or at home, and ultimately his character trumps his mistakes.

Takeaway: An inspiring sports fiction that teaches the easy way isn’t always the best way.

Great for fans of: Randy Ribay’s After the Shot Drops and Kwame Alexander’s Rebound.

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