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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

I Beat the Odds

I vividly remember complaining loudly about having to read a football book during Thanksgiving vacation, 2006.  I was on the Alex Awards committee, and Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side (Norton, 2006) had just been nominated. I dragged it to my parent’s house, thinking I would leave it for my father or brother when when I was finished. They never got a chance. I gulped it down in one sitting, then forced everyone sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table to listen to me rave about it (and talk about football strategy — definitely a first) to the detriment of polite conversation. (Perhaps slightly exaggerated, but all true.)

I am still amazed by the appeal of the book, to all ages, both male and female. Even in my all-girls school library, The Blind Side is rarely on the shelf. It is hard to believe that anyone who reads The Blind Side (or sees the movie) does not immediately want to know how Michael Oher is doing, what has happened since he made it to Ole Miss.

Finally, here is Oher’s story in his own words, filling in details from his childhood to his life since the events depicted in The Blind Side. He also gets a chance to set the record straight on the way he was portrayed, particularly in the movie adaptation.

Oher does have an agenda. He wants foster parents to understand what their kids are going through. He wants to help struggling young people make good choices. And he hopes that adult readers might consider adopting or helping young people in some fashion, to show them the difference they can make. So yes, the book is occasionally preachy, but Oher is so very sincere that it is hard to mind.

OHER, Michael & Don Yaeger. I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond. 250p. Gotham. 2011. Tr $26. ISBN 978-1-592-40612-8. LC 2010045531.  I Beat the Odds

Adult/High School–Michael Oher’s story was introduced by Michael Lewis in The Blind Side (Norton, 2006), and in the 2009 movie. Now it is Oher’s turn. He begins with his earliest memory and continues through life as a player in the NFL. Oher’s mother moved her large family around Memphis, constantly changing neighborhoods and schools, sometimes a caring parent, more often an absent, drug-addicted one. Oher was determined to change his life from the age of seven or eight, seriously pursuing and studying sports long before he made it to Briarcrest. Being adopted by the Tuohy family was the breakthrough he needed. Oher obviously hopes this book will reach teens going through similar difficulties, or the adults who might care for them. He gives credit to the people who helped him: the teachers, coaches, social workers, friends, and the parents of friends who fed him and let him sleep over before the Tuohys provided a more permanent solution. In the final chapters, Oher offers details of college life, being drafted into the NFL, his life during and between seasons, and how he chooses to spend and share his monetary success. He shares quibbles with the book and movie, and he writes a chapter advising struggling kids on finding role models, staying out of trouble, being true to their talents, and working toward success. He ends with a list of organizations for those who wish to get involved. This is an inspiring tale, sure to be popular with teens whether they are in need of help or in a position to provide it.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Mark Flowers says:

    I also loved The Blind Side, but can’t see myself being terribly interested in reading this–never been a big fan of autobiography, especially of the “i beat the odds” sort.

    But taking myself out of the equation, since you’ve read them both, what do you think about the differences between the two in terms of audience, reading level, etc.? Should you have read or seen The Blind Side first, or does it stand on its own?

    • Angela Carstensen says:

      Great questions, Mark. I also usually avoid this type of autobiography. But in this case, already knowing the story behind it, I really wanted to know Oher’s version. I Beat the Odds is a much easier and shorter read than The Blind Side. Oher’s voice is quite casual. There is no doubt in my mind that Oher is hoping that teens will read his book. The Blind Side is more (dare I say it) literary, and is as much about a transformation in the sport of football as about Michael Oher’s life. I Beat the Odds barely addresses the change in football strategy that makes Oher such a valuable player. It does stand on its own, as Oher starts at the very beginning with his earliest memory. But as the book addresses his quibbles with The Blind Side, it may best be enjoyed as a companion. Many teens have at least seen the movie, or may be motivated to see it after reading the book.

      • Angela Carstensen says:

        This is fun! Immediately after I posted the previous comment an 11th grader came up to my desk to check out I Beat the Odds. She had seen Michael Oher in an interview on TV and it made her curious. (She had seen the movie, but not read The Blind Side.) How’s that for timing?! (By the way, she also checked out Little Princes by Conor Grennan — both were on display.)