Million-Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica. Penguin, 2009, 244 pages.
Recommended for: ages 10-14
Bottom Line: Mike Lupika’s young hero in Million-Dollar Throw endures a pressure cooker of emotion and competition but comes out stronger for it.
If recent scandals have taught us anything, it’s that when football (or any competitive sport) becomes an end in itself, it rots. That’s one indirect message of Million-Dollar Throw by long-time sports writer Mike Lupica. Nate Brody has the arm and the style of his hero, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a likeness enhanced by the autographed Brady football he saves up to buy. With the purchase comes a chance to get his name pulled out of a hopper in the store’s Million Dollar Throw contest. If he wins, he’ll get a chance to make one throw from the thirty-yard line during halftime at the Patriot’s Thanksgiving game. If the ball goes through a twenty-inch circle, the winner will be awarded a million dollars. That’s One. Million. Dollars. Nate’s number is drawn at the end of Chapter 2, so for the rest of the story pressure will build and build until that last throw on the big night.
There are plenty of pressure points: “It wasn’t just football that came at you fast, it was life that did that.” For one, Nate’s father has seen his real-estate sales plummet in the housing implosion; now he’s working an extra retail job while trying to sell a few houses on the side. For another, Nate’s game goes seriously downhill as his eighth-grade team suffers loss after loss. But worst of all is that his best friend Abby is losing her eyesight to retinitis pigmentosa. He doesn’t get it: why is all this happening? Abby herself is a rock of good humor and good sense: “I can’t say ‘why me’ . . . Because if I do that now that bad stuff has happened to me, why didn’t I say it about all the amazing stuff that’s happened to me before?” But even she has a hard time dealing when the lights start going out.
The ending ties things up a little too neatly but Nate got there by such a rough road it’s hard to begrudge him. Even though he and his friends and teammates often talk like wisecracking sports announcers instead of real kids, they don’t indulge in foul language or insults. Knowing the finer points of the game will probably increase a reader’s enjoyment, but it’s not necessary. Million Dollar Throw is a sports story in the best tradition, where winning gets its due, but it really isn’t everything.
Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4 (out of 5)
- Artistic value: 3.5
Categories: Middle Grades, Sports, Realistic Fiction, Life Issues