By Jeff Walsh
It's rather amazing that I went to every football game in high school, because I was in marching band, but never learned the rules or found it interesting. I just remember that the timer seemed to stop far too often for my taste.
So, when I got a copy of Bill Konigsberg's "Out of the Pocket," a novel about a gay high school quarterback who's outed in his senior year, I wasn't enthusiastic. Even the title, while I could contextually understand it… I don't even know if it's an actual football term and, if so, I won't be able to tell you if a player is out of the pocket in today's Super Bowl, unless I hear an announcer actually say it.
In any event, the book is the first from award-winning sports journalist Konigsberg and a welcome addition to the world of gay young adult fiction. The novel is about star quarterback Bobby Framingham, whose life is exactly on its intended track. Colleges are considering him for scholarships. He has a kinda-sorta girlfriend. A supportive, but somewhat distant family. But he decides he can't take it anymore and he has to start being honest, until he finds out the hard way that a little bit of honesty can take on a life of its own.
Konigsberg follows Bobby through being outed and its aftermath through leading the team to their championship playoff. The novel shows how coming out challenges friendships, families, and even the person who comes out to embrace life fully.
I do have to admit that the game sequences get descriptive and, if you're a football fan, they are probably exciting. For the rest of us, there's certainly enough to make sense of it all and the majority of the action takes place off the field. I certainly enjoyed reading the book, though, especially that all of the characters have their own stories going on and don't just serve as window dressing for Bobby's main narrative.
As with most YA novels, I want to say enough to make you read it if it interests you, but also not spoil the wonder of discovering the book for yourself. I hate book reviews (and movie trailers) that tell you so much that the only thing left is connective tissue. So, I'm going to stop saying anything else that happens.
The themes are universal here, so even if you aren't the star quarterback of your school's team, the story still applies. If anything, it reinforces how so many people are going through the same struggle, often alone, and that people we might perceive as being against us might be on our same path. You just won't know until your high school reunions.
I will say that for our female readers, the book is about a guy and his all-male football team, so it is quite the sausage factory. There is no token lesbian character in the school GSA or anything like that for you to latch onto, so consider yourself forewarned.
Konigsberg has delivered a strong debut here, and… OK, let me try this… deep breath… if you're open and in the end zone whilest looking for memorable characters, universal themes, and an emotional read, Konigsberg has thrown you a perfect spiral.
OK, I promise not to do that ever again. But if you want to see that kind of talk done right, do yourself a favor and read "Out of the Pocket."