When Jimmy Doyle is chosen as a member of a ten-man teen basketball team for an international competition, he is flattered. However, he knows he cannot go away for the summer, as his help is needed in running the family hardware store. His mother, though, convinces Jimmy to use his athletic talents, and he joins the team as they prepare for the tournament. Jimmy soon learns that he must earn the respect of his teammates, especially Augustus LeMay. As the games progress, despite the fact that Jimmy and Augustus discover they have much in common, each realizes there are some differences, which cannot be bridged.
Powerful novels such as this one contain a number of themes. Possible themes to explore in this book include the danger of judging people by their appearances, the necessity of forging relationships despite differences, the difficulty of making tough choices, and the insidious nature of racism. Which theme seems to be the most dominant? The most important? Point to specific examples from the story to support an answer. What other themes are part of this book?
One of the central conflicts of the novel is not quite resolved at the end. Readers are left to wonder about the relationship between Jimmy Doyle and Augustus LeMay. Will the two be able to overcome their differences and become more than simply two gifted athletes who played on the same team? What clues does Klass provide in the last chapter about the nature of this relationship?
By moving the setting of the novel from the familiar (Jimmy's native Missouri, the team training facilities in California) to a foreign country, Klass is better able to demonstrate that racism is pervasive. Project this story into the next century. Would moving the story forward in time change any of the events that occur in the novel? How might this story be different if it were set ten years ago? Fifty?
Though Jimmy and Augustus share common traits and circumstances (e.g. they both love basketball, have experienced "the zone," have lost their fathers when they were younger), there are differences that separate them as well. Construct a diagram or other visual representation of the similarities and differences between these two gifted athletes. Which are more important — their similarities or their differences?
- When Augustus refers to Malcolm X, Jimmy's curiosity is aroused. He begins to read and reread The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Augustus states bluntly that Jimmy will not be able to comprehend the book even if he does read it (p.98). What does Augustus mean by this remark? What insight does Jimmy gain from his reading?
- Augustus remarks that there seems to be plenty of money for the government to spend on the military and the space program, but when it comes to education, there is inadequate funding (p.108). Investigate the funding of schools in your area. How is the amount of money spent on schools determined?
- The basketball championship becomes a political issue once the death threat against Augustus is revealed. Discuss other times when sports are politicized, such as during Olympic years.
- The title of this book has many meanings. What are some of those meanings? What danger zones do you face daily? What did you read in this book that helps you overcome the danger zones you face?
- The word "final" is repeated many times in chapter 21 (pp. 207, 208, 209). Locate earlier references to finality. What might Klass be suggesting by this repeated use of the word "final"?
Other books to compare and contrast
Wrestling with Honor, by David Klass (difficult decisions, sports)
The Moves Make the Man, by Bruce Brooks (racism and prejudice)
The Terrorist, by Caroline Cooney (politics of terrorism)
Skinhead, by Jay Bennett (hatred and prejudice)
About the author
David Klass is the author of several books for young adults. Many of those books deal with young men whose involvement in sports leads them to a new awareness of the world in which they live. The American Library Association named Wrestling with Honor as one of the 100 Best Books for Young Adults. Klass lives in New York City and is the son of author Sheila Solomon Klass.
Discussion guide written by Kylene Beers, Lecturer, Department of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.