Bryan Mealer’s exploration of football and poverty in one small Florida town brings to mind other books about high school sports, such as Friday Night Lights and Michael D’Orso’s Eagle Blue.
You probably know Mealer’s previous work, even if you don’t recognize the name. He wrote The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with William Kamkwamba, a 2010 Alex-Award winner about the story of 14-year-old Kamkwamba’s struggle to build windmills from scraps when his family was on the bring of starvation in Malawi.
Amazon‘s Muck City page includes a guest review by Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, in which Fountain writes, “What Katherine Boo did for Mumbai in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Bryan Mealer does right here in our own backyard with Muck City.”
MEALER, Bryan. Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town. 336p. photos. Crown. Oct. 2012. Tr $25.00. ISBN 978-0-307-88862-4. LC 2012011275.
Adult/High School–In a book that will inevitably be compared to H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights (Addison-Wesley, 1990), Mealer follows a high school football team’s season in a town that doesn’t have much else going for it. Glades Central High School, in Belle Glade, Florida (aka Muck City, because of the silty muck created from the draining of the Everglades) has sent hundreds of boys to NCAA football schools, and 30 or more to the NFL. The town is grindingly poor and crime-ridden, filled with violence, and yet consistently turns out championship teams, giving some players the only opportunity they will ever have to leave Belle Glade and get an education. The book focuses on a few players during the 2010 season, plus Jessie Hester, who returns from a career in the NFL to coach his former high school team, and a cheerleader, Jonteria Williams, who is determined to go to college and become a doctor. Mealer tries to do a lot here–fill in the history of Belle Glade and its football teams, tell the story of the 2010 season, highlight some individuals–and at times, it is difficult to keep all the people straight. But Mealer creates a memorable portrait of a community and of a school that values its football team but is also struggling to raise its academic standards, and of players who find in their team and their coach the encouragement they need to stay out of trouble and in school.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA