Learning the Game Booktalk
- Grades: 9–12
About this book
Just when Nate thinks they’ve gotten away with it, there’s a familiar voice on the phone. “I saw you. When you guys robbed the place, I saw you.”
Nate is a basketball player with an unbeatable jump shot. He’s a junior in high school, on the varsity team and up for a starting position, gets straight As without really trying, his girlfriend is a star on the girls’ basketball team, and it looks like it’s gonna be a good year. But things change, just like they did for his brother Marvin when he killed his best friend and started on the dismal spiral down to where he is now, a pothead Nate hasn’t seen in a year or so. Now it’s Nate’s turn.
They practice every day on the court behind the Sigma Chi house, closed for the summer. Nate’s cool with the other guys. His best friend is Jackson, the only black guy on the team. The only guy Nate doesn’t like is Brian Branson, a scrapper with a smart mouth and an in-your-face attitude. Branson and Nate are competing for the same starting position. Nate hates the way Branson has infiltrated the group, but he’s never done anything about it, never stood up to him, always gone with the flow.
It’s the last weekend of the summer, and on Sunday morning Branson walks over to the back door of the frat house – and breaks in. “Come on in, boys – make yourself at home,” he tosses over his shoulder as he disappears into the darkness inside. One by one, they follow him. The rich college kids have been looking down at the “townies” for years, and it feels deliciously wicked to do something to get back at them, even if it’s just invading their territory. But then Branson has to kick it up a notch – “Whaddaya say we liberate some of this stuff? Those rich pinheads probably won’t even notice!” Branson offers to haul the stuff away in his van and sell it and split the profits, and the rest of the team agrees, and starts to search for the best stuff to take.
But Jackson heads for the front door, and Nate follows him. “No way, man. This is some serious bad news. I’m outta here. You coming, Nate?” Nate doesn’t say anything. As Jackson drives away, Nate almost follows him. But the pull of the group is stronger than Jackson’s, and he walks back into the house and watches his teammates carry out everything that’s not nailed down, cramming it into the van. When it’s full, Branson reminds them that they’ll all be safe and no one will ever catch them if none of them talk, if they’ll all just be team players.
But the next day at school, Jackson brushes Nate off, and doesn’t show up for practice. It seems like everything is going wrong. Then the phone rings. “Nate – we need to talk.” It’s Marvin, the stranger-brother he hasn’t seen or talked to in over a year. “What were you doing the other day at the frat house, when you guys robbed the place? I saw you three. I saw you.”
This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart