Necessary Roughness by Marie G. Lee is another Friends of the Library book sale find. I probably picked it up because the main character is Korean—and completely ignored the football uniform. There’s a lot of football in here is what I’m saying. Basically, Chan’s parents move him and his sister Young to Minnesota from L.A. to take over their uncle’s store. There’s no soccer team so Chan joins the football team and encounters some violent racism under the guise of “necessary roughness.”
What I Liked
- There’s some really good family stuff here, especially with Young and Chan’s dad and his brother and how that affects his relationship with Chan.
- Chan frequently acts as a translator for his father, but his father expects him to be quiet and respectful at the same time.
- I especially like that O-Ma is not to be slept on. She constantly comes through in surprising ways. She gets things done is what I’m saying. She’s probably my favorite.
- As is Mrs. K, their neighbor. She and O-Ma have a great relationship.
- Young and Chan are both good kids, so the conflict doesn’t come from rebelling against their parents but just from them trying to figure out their new town and how they fit in.
- One of my favorite parts is Chan trying to find someone–anyone–of color he can relate to. And finding that in this particular town, that’s not an option. That is so real, especially when you go from a place with a lot of people of color to a lily-white town. It is jarring and weird and also means trying to recreate that feeling of home as best you can.
What I Didn’t Like
- FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL. Listen, there’s a lot of football in this book, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it’s important to the main character, so he would talk about it a lot. But I find that the focus on drills and stuff in books only works if it’s to explore other stuff like relationships between characters.
- There are a lot of dropped threads plot threads here: Young and Chan’s uncle, the bullying incidents, the money issues.
- There are a lot of rushed and not satisfactorily resolved endings as well: the bullying incident, the money issues, Chan’s relationship with a girl, and the actual ending.
- I really wanted more from this book: more character and plot development and more of a sense of the school beyond football–especially for Young. Even though the story isn’t told from her point of view, I don’t really get a sense of what her experience at the school is.
- The tagline on the book is “Sometimes offense is the only defense.” Yeah, that wasn’t realized in the book at all.
In conclusion: This book had a promising start but left me wanting more. Reluctant readers who like sports might go for it, though.