Despite working on my National Board portfolio almost non-stop during March, I did make time to read a few books and watch March Madness. March Madness is my favorite time of year and I love rooting for the Cinderella teams, the underdogs, the surprises. When I received a copy of Paul Volponi’s The Final Four from the publisher, I made sure that I put on top of my TBR pile. I read it between the second and third rounds and it was better than any game I watched on TV. This is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries. I also think it will appeal to middle school readers.
The book is told over the course of overtime in a single Final Four game. The reader sees the game through the eyes of four individual players, with snippets shared from the announcers and newspaper articles. Malcolm is a boy from the inner city whose sister was killed in a drive-by shooting. He is only interested in looking out for himself and he is a one-and-done player, leaving for the NBA as soon as the season ends. MJ, Michael Jordan (the most unfortunate name for a boy who likes basketbal, who is trying to do well in school and make a better life for himself. Roko, a Croatian teen whose uncle was killed by the mafia in his home country, is trying to honor his uncle’s memory. Crispin is from Louisiana and is engaged to the head cheerleader, but suddenly isn’t sure it’s what either of them should be doing. All four players come with baggage and they all have to contribute in the final moments of the most important game of their life.
The set-up is spot-on. I felt like I was watching the game and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book. All four players ring true and the background information is great. And this isn’t just an action-packed story about a basketball game. Volponi forces the reader to think about the money and prestige that come along with NCAA basketball. Is it enough to “pay” college athletes with a free education when their school is potentially making millions off of their work on the court? Should college players be allowed to play a single season and then move into the NBA at 18 or 19 years old?
Volponi is a great realistic fiction writer and all of his novels are must-haves for high school libraries. The Final Four is another slam dunk from Volponi and I can’t recommend it enough. Even those who don’t particularly like basketball will find themselves pulled into the world that is NCAA March Madness.