Written by Gordon Korman
Most enjoyed by football lovers in 6th through 8th grade
Marcus is new to town and ready to play the game he loves, football. It's hard to get to know anyone in town, though, when you move in the summer. As he practices in the park, he becomes friends with Charlie, a guy in his 50's who can hit a tackle like he's a kid. A little research and Marcus learns that his buddy is really Charlie Popovich, former linebacker in the NFL and crowned the 'King of Pop' because of the effectiveness of his hits. Though their practices are brutally physical, there's something about the hitting and tackling that Marcus soon enjoys. He can understand what Charlie means when he says that he 'loves the pop'.
His lessons with Charlie pay off because a job as quarterback for the Raider's doesn't look possible. Troy, the winning quarterback from an undefeated season last year, has no intention of giving up the job. None of the other players are too interested in welcoming Marcus to the team either. It doesn't help matters that Troy is Charlie's son, a son that Charlie has never mentioned. In fact, Charlie has never mentioned having a family at all. He plans pranks like a teenager but can't recall carrying them out. Marcus soon realizes that something isn't right with Charlie. Perhaps all those years of living for the 'pop' have taken their toll. When a crucial decision is needed for Charlie's future, Marcus and Troy differ on the right approach to take. Who will decide what's best for Charlie - the family that loves him or the buddy who knows how important football is to the King of Pop?
'Pop' is an excellent, gripping novel about a young man watching an older friend come to terms with the brutal result of too many head injuries. It's a timely book because the long term effect of numerous concussions on football players has been in the news quite a bit. While football is an important part of 'Pop', the close friendship that develops between Marcus and Charlie is what draws readers in. Without giving too much of the book away, it's difficult to read how much Marcus cares for Charlie and how Charlie really can't return the feeling. But knowing this, Marcus doesn't give up on Charlie, a quality that I admired in him. There were a few times I wished Marcus had gone to another adult to help him deal with Charlie, but I appreciate the fact that he felt he couldn't. It made me wonder how I would have handled the situation myself.
Even if you're not a fan of football, don't pass up 'Pop' It's a great story about a young man caring for an older friend despite heartbreaking circumstances.