Game Changer

HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Feb. 2021. 400p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061998676.
Gr 8 Up–A hard tackle on the football field normally gives a linebacker a concussion—but every hit Ash Bowman takes throws him into new worlds, called Elsewheres. In the first Elsewhere, the stop signs are blue instead of red. The next hit sends him to an Elsewhere where his father is a professional football player. The next: Segregation is still legal. Ash learns this multidimensional jumping gives him the power to change the world—but only so many times. Once his time runs out, the world will be stuck however he’s left it. One might have hoped a novel so firmly grounded in current events would more deftly tackle topics like racism, homophobia, and misogyny—as it is, this novel is a Chosen One white savior narrative. It is only after Ash, who is white and heterosexual, moves through alternate realities to experience firsthand discrimination that he learns these things are bad. Ash is deeply changed by what he learns across worlds, his narrative voice swerving between compelling and mansplaining as he pulls readers along. Shusterman’s writing style instantly turns pages but ultimately isn’t enough to make up for the problematic foundation the book was built on. “Arc of the Scythe” fans will likely be disappointed in this metaphysical novel, but the sports-meets-speculative aspects will draw in new readers.
VERDICT An earnest novel that misses its mark, this is an additional purchase for collections where Shusterman’s books already have an audience.

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