Looking for a fast-paced novel for your older elementary or middle school sports fan? Check out Two-Minute Drill, in which smart new kid Scott wishes he could be a better athlete. His dyslexic buddy Chris is a great athlete, but he needs help in school so that he can continue to play football. These sixth-grade friends face bullies, do homework, and play football together.
The parents in this story are supportive and loving, attending church together on Sunday. "Scott Parry couldn't think of a day in his entire life when he'd walked into whatever house they were living in and his mom hadn't been there." His dad encourages Scott to do his best, and his dog faithfully retrieves the football Scott kicks. In short, this is a positive, action-packed novel that young sports fans will enjoy.
In contrast, Hot Hand tells the story of Billy, a young basketball player burdened by his dysfunctional family. His parents are separated, his mother travels frequently for her job, and his younger brother is regularly bullied. The only time Billy sees his father is on the basketball court, where Mr. Raynor has only harsh criticism for his son. "And just like that, Billy was sick and tired of his dad taking shots at him."
Billy takes on the responsibility both of helping his brother deal with a school bully and of teaching his parents how to spend time with their sons--heavy burdens for a 10-year-old boy. Although there is nothing objectionable in Hot Hand, sensitive readers may be saddened by this family's situation.
In both books, Lupica's experience as a sports reporter gives authenticity to the football and basketball scenes. Both titles feature boys overcoming obstacles in sports and in life, finishing with dramatic victories in both arenas. Sports lingo, play-by-play narration, names of current pro athletes, and crisp pacing bring practices and games to life. Rated at a fifth-grade reading level, the vocabulary and action are clean, suspenseful, and appropriate for the target audience of 9 to 12-year-old sports fans.