Deep Zone (Football Genius #5), by Tim Green
One way that you can tell this is a fictional story is that the author has the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. When I chose this book to read from the library, I was not thinking of it as part of its own series, which it is (more on that anon), but rather within the context of writing about children involved in the witness protection program. As a sports novel directed mainly to teen boys, this book definitely hits the mark. While it may have been even better had I enjoyed reading the book with the context of the previous books in the series, it certainly works well also as a standalone novel, even if (spoilers below) there are some remarkable coincidences here that bring people together who start out as rivals and who end up being allies in a dramatic struggle for their freedom against some very bad people. And it is that ability to recognize in a rival someone who is not only a friend but even an ally who can be depended to risk his or her life is something that is remarkable and impressive to find in this book’s all too believable scenario.
Deep Zone is mostly the story about the efforts of Ty Lewis to win a 7 on 7 football tournament on Super Bowl Sunday and deal with a serious injury his older brother suffered in the AFC Championship, all while facing threats to his safety from some mob people who are mad that his uncle snitched on them. Meanwhile, he faces a stern test from Troy White, whose ability to predict plays before they happen has made him a state football champion in Georgia and a favorite to win the 7 on 7 tournament that Ty is competing in. At first, these two are rivals even if they are sometimes confused for each other, but as the novel progresses it becomes aware that just as Troy is jealous of Ty’s interest in Troy’s friend Tate, who meets cute with Ty by having a drink spilled on her dress in a moment of awkward clumsiness, there is a lot more going on beneath the surface of this novel, including an eventual reveal that Ty and Troy are both being endangered by the same bad people, and that the two of them are (surprise) cousins, who are placed in harm’s way because Troy’s father owes debts to the same mob figures that are trying to whack both Ty and Troy for different reasons.
The title of this book is a reference to a defensive tactic to play prevent defense so that one does not get beat by a fast receiver like Ty is. Part of his own education as a player is the knowledge that his speed can be a help to his team even when he is not catching passes himself because he is consistently getting double covered, and in recognizing the way that defenses can present looks that are in themselves deceptive. At the beginning of the novel Ty isn’t a particularly cerebral sort of person, but through his experiences and learning, he gradually develops a better head for the game that, if it does not make him a football genius on the level of Troy, certainly allows him to become a smarter player, which can only be a good thing. This is a novel that not only provides some compelling sports action as well as the threat of violence directed by mob figures, but also ways in which young people can recognize in talented rivals friends, family, and partners in the effort of surviving and thriving in adversity, and that is a very good listen for young people to learn.