Never judge a book by its cover. I bought that line at Clichés R Us and thought I’d throw it out because, with Stupid Fast, the cover screams, “Sports book!” while the contents whisper, “Family social drama.” Not to worry, Geoff Herbach’s equal to the task, and once you realize that it’s contemporary realistic fiction in sports book’s clothing, it’s cool. And yes, you get a little bit of sports thrown in, but just a little, and mostly at the end, so if you’re looking for a Carl Deuker slash John Coy type book with lots of play-action sequences, you’re ironing up the wrong grid (viewed in a mirror, there’s a gridiron joke in there somewhere).
This is the story of a kid named Felton Reinstein (poor guy) whose little brother Andrew is a piano-playing prodigy and whose mother is an ex-flower girl hippie (he calls her Jerri, not Mom). Felton loses a best friend and picks up a paper route in short order at the start of the book. This leads to a lot of whining and complaining and self-pity that Andrew and Jerri (not to mention the reader) have to tolerate as best they can.
Soon, however, Felton sprouts a couple inches and gets talked into trying out for football. He meets a girl named Aleah and falls in that lovely pit called love. Circumstances, like his body, move north quickly, and suddenly Felton is cool and it’s his mother and brother’s turns to indulge in a lot of whining and complaining and self-pity.
One could argue that the turnaround and the source of it (spoiler, so I won’t go there) occur a little too quickly and conveniently for their own good, but that would be nit-picking because the book’s heart is in the right place (chest cavity, for those taking notes). After the slow start, you get caught up in the voice of Felton and start to identify with him and cheer for him and so on and so forth, because he’s learning the right things in the right way (see “the hard way,” found in Aisle 11 at Clichés R Us).
Aleah is a great minor character. She smells like blueberries and, in one scene, sheds a “blueberry tear” for good measure. I thought the dialogue exchanges between her and Felton were solid and authentic. Cody, a kid from the jock tribe, is a breath of fresh air, too, breaking the jock stereotype — and why it’s such a stereotype, I don’t know, because many “jocks” DO run against type. Grandma Berba’s entrance toward the end is a bit too deus ex machina for my tastes, but what are grandmothers for other than my-what-big teeth-you-have cameos and sudden entrances with walkers?
In the end, Stupid Fast is a feel-good story that reluctant readers should embrace, even if their typical diet is sports books. There’s enough sports talk to keep them waiting, and while they’re waiting they’ll get caught up in Felton’s follies, so it’s all one — meaty, both rare and well done. A promising debut, overall, and if your students like it, you can run straight up the middle and get the sequel, which is Nothing Special (wink).