Donald W. Albertson,
Catch a Rising Star:
The Adult Game of Youth Sports

(Turn Key, 2006)

Let's begin this review with a brief synopsis. Catch a Rising Star: The Adult Game of Youth Sports is a novel about the Anderson family. Tom and Maggie have 12-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who are both active in competitive team sports. Marc is a promising young quarterback, Katie is an outstanding soccer player. Tom and his wife have very different opinions regarding the importance of sport in each of their children's lives, and these conflicts form the heart of the drama in Donald W. Albertson's debut novel.

Next, a little background. I asked to review this book because, like the fictional father in the novel, I too have a boy and a girl (though not twins) who are involved in competitive sports. In addition, I come from a family of reasonably strong athletes (gymnastics, synchronized swimming and hockey). I have firsthand knowledge of how injuries, which play an important role in the book, can destroy one's ability to compete. I'm involved in coaching, having recently taken on the role of junior coach with my kids' swim team. And while swimming is not a sport known for the sort of parent rage that enters into the plot in Catch a Rising Star, I have witnessed some pretty intense emotions in connection with kids and sports.

But none of my sports experience was really necessary to make the call that Catch a Rising Star is not a great book. There are problems large and small here. From the title and cover, which make the book appear to be a piece of nonfiction, to the author's frequent difficulties with verb tense, to the shallowness of the characters -- all evidence suggests this book ought to have had some hard-nosed editing and a major rewrite before it was published. As it stands, the book reads like a piece of juvenile fiction with a whole lot of sex thrown in to make it appear adult. But the characters don't have the complexity, layers of motivation or diversity to lift off the page for a discerning adult reader.

Catch a Rising Star is told from the perspective of Tom Anderson who, when he isn't pressing his son to do extra training, is putting the moves on every female he comes across -- the mothers of his son's teammates, the receptionist at a sports clinic, a stripper. Naturally they're all shapely beauties who find him immediately attractive. The man's a jerk, shallow, self-centered and short-fused.

Now, it's one thing to build a book around an unsympathetic protagonist. It's another to present so few consequences to the sort of behavior that Tom, and many of the other football fathers in this book, exhibits. These are adults who can't seem to converse without shouting profanities at one another, belittling each other's kids or even throwing punches. At one point Tom's frustrations with Marc's coach lead him to suggest to Marc's teammates that they might allow one of their fellow players to be injured so Marc can get back in the line-up. And when, in the closing chapters of the novel, Tom's actions finally elicit more than a passing negativity from his wife, the strength of her response seems to come out of left field. It's out of step with her kids' feelings and, since it's her kids that are supposedly her central concern, she's left looking as though she's overreacting.

Maggie's ultimatum at the close of Catch a Rising Star really needed to come much earlier in the storyline. Its impact on Tom and her kids could have turned this novel into something considerably more complex. Unfortunately, Donald Albertson seems unwilling to explore anything much below the surface of parental sports rage. He's taken on a difficult, involved subject, one with which he reportedly has some familiarity, and he's presented it devoid of insight.

Albertson's starting point, telling the tale from Tom's perspective, gave him an excellent platform from which to explore sports rage. But it also set overly constricting boundaries on the degree to which he could shed any light on Tom's behavior. It would have taken a considerably more talented writer to bring wisdom to a tale told from the point of view of such a rash character. Perhaps exploring a multi-viewpoint approach with chapters alternating from Tom's to Maggie's to Marc's and Katie's perspectives might have helped layer the story and make it more powerful.

Catch a Rising Star is a book that held some potential. It's a shame that it was published with that potential so far from realized. An editor who had insisted that the author take another run at this story, give it more depth, get inside the feelings that lead to sports rage, would have done a great service to Albertson and his readers.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
29 April 2006

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