Losers Take All
Written by David Klass
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015
Jack Logan is the youngest member of a small town sports dynasty family: His father is a local football legend, known as “The Logan Express,” and his brothers had equally storied high school sports careers. Jack, however, has no time for sports, which is the source of tension between he and his dad to start with; but when the long time school principal dies in front of a huge crowd trying to break a track record, things go from bad to worse for Jack.
The new principal, Mr. Muhldinger, is the physical embodiment of the town’s overall obsession with athletics, and his first act as leader is to decree (completely illogically and I’m pretty sure illegally) that all students are required to take part in an extra-curricular sport. Jack is recruited to the varsity football team, because, regardless of his reluctance and disinterest, he is his father’s son, and with that comes a natural athletic ability. Jack is fast, basically, and the team needs fast. During his unofficial tryout for the team he is hit hard, and suffers a terrible dental injury, which gives him the push he needs to say “No” and find his own way.
With his new girlfriend, Becca, Jack starts a ‘C’ soccer team made up of kids who don’t play, know or care about sports. Under the tutelage of their history-obsessed coach, the aptly-named Losers set out to fulfill their sports requirement, and they do so with hilarious results; their on-field performance is a comedy of errors, which brings upon them the wrath of Muhldinger, who is outed to the world as nothing more than a bully. The Losers, for their part, are established as internet superstars, and their cause is taken up by all kids who feel like misfits when the media makes them a cause célèbre.
The hi-jinx on the soccer pitch will be entertaining for the intended middle grade audience, but anyone older or anyone who has seen The Bad News Bears, Ladybugs and even The Mighty Ducks will find them very familiar.
In fact, there are a number of things about the book that are problematic, from the pencil sketched characterizations (none of the other Losers have much in the way of personality) to the thin relationships; even Jack and his girlfriend Becca’s relationship seems to exist only when they’re on the page together. It’s as though nothing happens that isn’t written down. For instance, Jack’s initially horrifying mouth injury essentially is just explained away because it’s not convenient. But then, a major (and very creepy) plot point involving their soccer coach, Mr. Percy, seems to pop up only to give Jack leverage. (Why is Becca, set up as a watchdog of authoritative abuse, not outraged by his actions?) It’s a bit too tidy, as is the evolution of Jack’s personal sports fortunes.
It also takes far too long to establish its premise and get into the story. The titular Losers, who become an internet sensation thanks to their poor play, don’t take the field until nearly the 120 (of just over 300) page point, and that could and should have come easily 40 or 50 pages sooner; in fact, by my count, the Losers play only three games in the entire book, making their internet infamy feel a bit unearned.
Basically, while there are any number of nit-picky things that one could focus on in Losers Take All, what saves the book is David Klass’s easy way with prose and his pace. The story, once it kicks in, moves so quickly that you barely have a second to dwell on what you’ve just read. It’s a good book that, with a stronger edit and maybe another draft or two, could have been great.
It’s an ideal read for the reluctant reader; it’s not especially challenging, it flows well, and it offers consistent chuckles. Even the more sophisticated reader will find much to like here; besides the inherent readability, the books says something about cultural obsession, group-think, the fleeting nature of fame, and media-created frenzy.
Kinderlit requested and received a copy of Losers Take All in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.