Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Knights of Hill Country by Tim Tharp

The January slump almost killed this book for me, but I got back into it in February, and I'm glad I did. 

Hampton Green (Hamp) is a star senior defensive player on his small town Oklahoma school's football team. His best friend Blaine is on offense and just like his father before him, he believes football is life. As the team tries to maintain their undefeated season, Hamp struggles with the effects his dad's departure left on his mother. Bouncing from guy to guy, she changes her interests to suit whomever she is currently dating, and Hamp is an afterthought. Unlike Blaine, Hampton does find more to life outside football, including Sara, who isn't the typical girl a Kennisaw Knight dates. She hangs out in the library, isn't wealthy, and doesn't look like she stepped out of the pages of a magazine. But Kennisaw Knights don't date girls like Sara, as Blaine reminds Hamp. As Hamp excels on the field and Blaine attempts to mask the intensity of last year's knee injury, the stress of college scouts begins to take its toll on the boys' friendship. Then a new man (an ex-Football player from town) comes into Hamp's mom's life, and Hamp begins to see that the culture of winning in Kennisaw may not be as perfect as they have been raised to believe. But he has his sights set on college and the world outside of Kennisaw. 

Hamp reminds me of Ponyboy Curtis. The story is told from Hamp's perspective, written in the same Oklahoma-style that Hinton gave to Ponyboy's voice. ("Man alive, did them stands explode in cheers then.") And Hampton may look like the other guys on the outside, but inside he is a deep thinker, thoughtful and sensitive. And I haven't come across another character who could be Dallas Winston reincarnated like Blaine Keller. He has a fire, intensity, and recklessness that would make those two character fast and dangerous friends.  

This would be a great read for any kid who knows what it's like to see your parents make bad choices or who feels the pressure to fit into the role your community or family has placed you in. There is a lot (a lot) of football dialogue and play-by-play narration during games, so a reader really needs to know their stuff to get through those scenes. This book has a lot of heart and when readers get to the final scene with Blaine and Hampton, it's hard not to go back to the Outsiders scene under the street light where a boy has to make a choice that could change his life forever. 

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