“The Academy” by T.Z. Layton

Besides being incredibly knowledgeable about football, (or soccer, for us North Americans) Layton sculptures the conflict and characters to create a beautiful flow of suspense. This entices us into the world of these young players as we empathize with their joys and disappointments.

Characters are varied and realistic, especially the hero, a young American boy out of his depth in an English professional soccer setting.

The story is filled out by a perfectly orchestrated secondary plot that gives us a love interest at enough distance that a twelve-year-old boy (the main audience for this kind of book) can enjoy it.

In fact, the author is too involved in his sport and allows his enthusiasm to overwhelm his sense of how much his readers will understand. While we are able to follow a lot of the on-field action, there are simply too many technical terms and fancy moves for us to keep track.

Likewise, there are too many secondary characters. The setting is a summer football academy where an MLS team vets possible up-and-coming players scouted from around the world. There are 200 players there, and it seems we are introduced to most of them, including their country of origin and their main playing strengths and weaknesses.

As the story moves along and Leo’s group forms, we get to know some of them. However, the play in the climactic games is described in play-by-play fashion. This gives us great detail, but there are too many unfamiliar names, and we sometimes can’t distinguish friend from foe. Fortunately, when we get to the final game, the focus is tightened, the cast list is pared down and the final action is completely clear.

An excellent story for YA sports fans of both genders, especially soccer players. Coaches might find it an interesting read from a developmental point of view. Well-written enough for adult enjoyment as well. Read it with your kid.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

About the Author: Gordon Long

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