Summary: While exploring the new town he and his mother have moved to after his parents’ divorce, Marcus meets a mysterious man named Charlie who joins in his football practice and teaches him about true love of the game. During their encounters Marcus realises that Charlie’s memory is patchy, and eventually he learns that Charlie is an ex-NFL player whose stellar career has taken a very personal toll, leaving him with early onset Alzheimer’s. Their friendship helps Marcus adjust to living in a new place, and gives him new confidence in the way he plays football. Marcus’ perspective of Charlie in turn helps him see the Charlie he never really knew but who still exists, and Marcus is willing to do anything to help Charlie feel like himself again.
Number of Pages: 262
Age Range: 15-17
Review: After finishing Pop, I find myself haunted by its final scenes. Gordon Korman’s writing is well-developed and I was taken in by the motivations and actions of each character, which is why I was so sad when it was over.
The friendship between Charlie and Marcus was unique. I loved Marcus’ dedication to Charlie even before he knew about the Alzheimer’s, and how Charlie was his first friend in town. It’s complicated by the fact that Charlie sees Marcus as someone from his past, but their mutual love of football cements their friendship, as well as pranks played on a local shopkeeper.
Korman aptly explores the various reactions to Charlie’s illness from family members to friends to Charlie himself who are all mourning the gradual losses his illness will bring in different ways. Tension built up over the course of the story remains unresolved because knowing Charlie’s illness was a direct result of his career does not stop Marcus from playing or loving the game of football. But that’s why he and Charlie bonded so quickly, because they both understood what it was to crave the feel of the game in spite of the risks.
I’d recommend Pop for mid to older teen readers looking for a sensitive book about the darker side of football, and the power of the most unlikely friendships.
“How was it possible for a man of fifty plus to wipe up the park with a kid less than a third his age? And not just to do it, but to love doing it! Whenever Charlie was making bone-jarring contact, the expression on his face was nothing short of bliss. Like Mozart at the harpsichord or Edison tinkering with some invention – it was something he was just meant to do.” – from Pop by Gordon Korman, page 25
“Deluca put the car back in gear and off they raced, siren wailing once again. ‘You’re some piece of work, Marcus Jordan – some weird, loyal, stupid piece of work,’ he said after a moment. ‘I think I’m starting to like you. I’ve always been a lousy judge of character.'” – Officer Deluca from Pop by Gordon Korman, page 221
“Before this moment, the very nature of Charlie’s confusion had protected him from the truth of his situation. But at last, he was face-to-face with the fact that his life was never going to be the same again.” – from Pop by Gordon Korman, page 245