Middle Grade Review: Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack

Sometimes I read books that might not be my thing because it’s good to read outside our ‘normal’ genre’s but also to help the parents, teachers and librarians who read my blog for recommendations.  So while Athlete vs. Mathlete isn’t really a book I could say is something I would read again, it’s definitely a book I recommend to the right people. 

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W.C. Mack
Paperback, 208 pages
Published: Feb. 5th, 2013 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Ages: 8-12 (though I would say this is upper MG & the characters are in 7th grade)
Source: ALAMW 2013/ Bloomsbury
Owen Evans lights up the scoreboards. His brother, Russell, rocks the school boards. These twin brothers couldn’t be more different. They’ve long kept the peace by going their separate ways, but all that is about to change. The new basketball coach recruits Russell for the seventh grade team and a jealous Owen has to fight to stay in the game. When someone tries to steal Russell’s spot as captain of the mathlete team, will the two be able to put aside their differences in order to save his position? Or will they be sidelined? Perfect for fans of Matt Christopher and Andrew Clements alike, this is a lighthearted and hilarious look at what happens when brains meets brawn meets basketball.

Athlete vs. Mathlete is an upper middle grade novel about twin brothers in 7th grade.  Owen is an athlete who loves basketball and Russell is a mathlete.  But when the new basketball coach convinces (er, forces) Russell to try out for basketball everyone assumes he’ll just prove how clumsy and un-athletic he is.  But everyone is shocked that he has a bit of a hidden talent.  This makes Owen jealous as Russell has now stolen his spotlight.  And Russell is having trouble balancing his different teams (basketball and Masters of the Mind) along with school work.  In a addition there’s a new member to the Masters of the Mind club and he’s trying to take Russell’s place.

In this book we get a good look at two brothers that clearly love each other but struggle a bit with being top dog.  Owen was always the one close to his father since they both love basketball and Russell, once he gets some of his fathers attention, realizes that he really does want to make his father proud and so tries harder to do so, kind of leaving Owen behind.  When Owen tries to steal back the spotlight he not only hurts his brother, his family and his team mates, but also himself. 

This family dynamic is very important and present in the story and I really liked this.  I loved seeing how much they loved and cared about each other, and how when they realized they did something wrong and hurt another that they were truly sorry and did the right thing. 

There’s some father son time that was really important to the story.  However I didn’t feel like the father ever realized that his pushing Russell so hard to be a basketball player was wrong.  He said rude things about how Owen was the normal one and there wasn’t any clear indication that he was ever informed that this hurt Russell’s feelings.  But the conclusion to everything overall was good, so maybe this is an issue that will reappear in the future books.

I’m not a sports fan and so I didn’t feel any connection to that aspect, or the Mathlete stuff either.  But it was clear that the book takes place in or near Oregon as the team they cheered on was the Blazers (Portland’s team) and knowing that made me feel a bit more connected with it all.  Just knowing that it takes place locally, I guess.  And even though because I’m a 31 year old woman and I couldn’t actually really connect with these characters, I did really like them and their personalities. 

This is the first of a series (I have heard) and I’m not sure how it’ll play out since this had a nice conclusion, but knowing these characters will live on in future books is exciting. 

I think this is a perfect book for middle school boys.  It’s entertaining and has a lot of things they should connect with.  There’s no inappropriate content and no romance or hint of one.  It’s a fast, easy read that I read in less than 2 hours.  All public libraries as well as middle school libraries should most definitely have this book on their shelves!

Disclosure: I received this book at ALAMW as a free gift.  All opinions expressed are my own and I was not paid or influenced in any way.

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  1. Great review Candace. I’m not a sports person either, but my daughter is a swimmer so I’ve kind of entered this world.

    This sounds like a great book not only for boys but girls too into sports. I think a lot of kids who are into competitive sports at that age can relate to some of the issues in this book, like dealing with a friend or family member better than you. Thanks for spotlighting this.

  2. I remember seeing this one when it first came out and thinking it looked cute.
    I am glad you liked it. It is funny but I am usually not a sports fan either but for some reason I don’t mind reading about them in books as long as the main plot isn’t all about sports.

  3. I always have a hard time finding stuff for boys to read about after they finished my suggestions so I like trying to be ahead of that curve. This one sounds great. It reminds a lot of Markus Zusak’s “Underdogs” which is a YA book about sibling rivalry. Thanks for the recommendation!

  4. This sounds like a book that my neighbor would really like. He likes basketball, and he’s a really smart kid too, so I think he could relate to this. Thanks for the great review!

  5. I hear there is a shortage of good books for MG and YA boys, so it’s nice to see a good one! I totally get it when you say you didn’t really connect with the book because you’re not necessarily the target audience, but it’s still great to appreciate a good book.

  6. I am a sport’s fan so I will probably enjoy this a bit more than you. It is nice to see something written to appeal specifically to MG boys and hooray for the Oregon setting!

  7. I think my cousin would love this book, he’s at the age where sports are really starting to appeal to him and he certainly wouldn’t want any part of a romance which is why he never takes my recommendations seriously. Pffft. I’ll definitely send this one his way, thanks Candace!

  8. This sounds like a great read for my friend’s son. He is a very reluctant reader, but he loves basketball, and I think a sports read like this with a strong family presence would be a great gateway book for him. Fantastic review, Candace! :-)

  9. I read this book, and loved it! I was on Owen’s side, strangely. Probably because I can relate to his feelings.I was wondering,
    whats the name of the next book?

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