Two of my favorite things in the world are craft beer and books. On the last Thursday of every month I pair a story I love with a pint to sip while reading it.
This month I read Amy Avanzino’s second novel, FROM THE SIDELINE. Technically it’s the second book in her Wake-up Series, but I had no problem reading it as a stand-alone without reading the first book (though I really want to, now). In FROM THE SIDELINE, the main character, Autumn Kovac, reluctantly allows her only son to try out for the local youth football team. She’s terrified about sending her ten-year-old onto the field to be tackled by faster, larger, and far more coordinated children. She’s convinced he’ll sustain a head-injury, at worst, or be ridiculed by his peers, at other worst. Even though she can’t see any positive outcome, trying out for the team is only thing has made him happy since his father left– so she gives him the green light, certain he won’t make the cut. When he does, she finds herself thrown into a world she knows nothing about and finds out she has as much learning and growing to do as her son, if not more.
Here’s what I loved about the book:
The humor. Avanzino tackles a lot of serious topics: divorce, abusive relationships, bullying, but then she also writes things like this:
I have painful memories of stronger, more dominant children hurling balls at my face and not being able to dodge them. . . That insufferable climb to the top of the gymnasium, followed by the dreadful rope-burning descent, still gives me nightmares. Not being able to live up to the expectations of our beloved President in that impossible physical-fitness challenge no doubt turned me into the maladjusted adult I am today.
Peppered throughout her prose are these sharp, witty, often self-effacing moments that make you laugh out loud. The book reads as if you’re talking to that friend who can always make you laugh, even in life’s toughest moments. Which are, of course, the best type of friends.
The football stuff. On a continuum of knowledge about the game of football that ranges from completely ignorant to totally expert I’d place myself in the middle, sliding toward the completely ignorant end. While I was excited to read this book, based on early praise, and positive reviews of Avanzino’s first novel, I was admittedly unsure about the football part of the story. I don’t know that much about the game and I’m not overly interested in it aside from the social part of watching the occasional college game or the Super Bowl. I had no reason to worry though, because here’s the thing– the main character Autumn also doesn’t know much about the game, or care much for it, so it’s super easy to go on this journey with her and learn to care about her son’s role in the game with her. And, you know who does know football– Amy Avanzino. There’s no way she could have written the game scenes without A LOT of background knowledge, but she writes in such an accessible way, you’re immediately drawn into the scene and completely understand what’s happening.
Zachary. Autumn’s football-playing son, Zachary is, in a word, amazing. The story opens with Autumn being surprised her son is even interested in football. He loves quiet, by-himself activities, like reading or playing video games. He’s a bit of a loner, and has some trouble fitting in with his peers. He isn’t super coordinated (especially when he starts playing) and sometimes trips over his own feet. He’s got typical ten-year-old behaviors like eye-rolling, and thinking his Mom is embarrassing, but he’s also wise beyond his years and takes on a leadership role on his team. He’s a beautifully-drawn, multi-layerd character, that keeps you guessing in the way I would imagine an actual ten-year-old child keeps you guessing in real life. (*Close second in the awesome character category is Joaquin. You’ll have read the book to find out why.)
I’m pairing FROM THE SIDELINE with New Belgium Brewing’s Shift Pale Lager. I wanted to go with a craft beer that is a classic American style, in the way football is a classically American sport. When I think beer and football, I think of a light-ish lager. Something you can have several of during a game, and Shift fits that perfectly. Also, New Belgium is an employee-owned company and the beer’s name is in reference to the “end-of-shift” beer all employees get when they clock out for the day. Seems an appropriate match for a book all about teamwork and heart.
FROM THE SIDELINE was published on July 19, and Amy Avanzino is on tour all over the internet through the beginning of September. Be sure to check out her schedule! And follow along on Facebook and Twitter.