Title: S.O.R. LosersS_O_R_-Losers
Author: Avi
Pages: 90
Reading Level: 9 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

Avi returns!

The Story.

Ed and his friends are different from the other boys. In a sports-oriented school, they alone are disinterested in sports. They’ve even managed to sneak through one year there without playing any sports!

But now they’ve been caught, and a special soccer team has been organized just for them. Even though they just want to spend time with the things they love – art, music, history, math, etc. – the school refuses to let them by. So Ed and his buddies reluctantly attend practice – and find that it’s worse than they could have possibly dreamed.

Will Ed and his friends be forced to play? And if they don’t care if they’re losers, should they even try to win?

Praises.

Oh, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more while reading a book – or while re-reading it. The first time I read it I was in the car and my family kept turning to look at me and ask me why I was laughing so much. So I ended up reading probably a fourth of the story to them. They laughed, too.

I’ll post a few of the funny quotes, but first I wanted to discuss the singular theme of S.O.R. Losers. It was distinct from any other work of fiction that I have read. It was about a bunch of boys who dislike sports and who are forced to play on a team. Because they have no interest or talent in sports, they have no interest in winning. So they go out, play a little, lose a lot, and come home happy to attend to their real interests.

Now, if this had been a real laziness problem, I would have had concerns. But these boys aren’t duds – they all have non-sports interests in which they excel. They care about those things. But sports just isn’t their thing. So they don’t try. And this isn’t just rebellion or boredom – they truly do not believe that sports are not worth the effort. I couldn’t help but agree with them.

It was hilarious to watch them interact with the ‘you can do it!’ mindset that surrounded them. Their teachers and parents expected them to feel beat-up over their losses, but they truly didn’t mind losing. This causes their parents and teachers to think that something is wrong with the boys. But all they want is to be allowed to pursue their own interests. Hearing their replies to the ‘believe in yourself’ routine, however, was one of the best parts of the book.

“Well,” Mr. Sullivan began with a smile. “So this is the special seventh-grade soccer team.” It wasn’t a sympathetic smile. More along the lines of an “I-don’t-believe-it” smile.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Could be worse,” said Macht.

“Next game,” agreed Barish.

“You’re not going to give up, are you?” asked Mr. Sullivan. “I suppose you think you’re not very good.”

“Honesty is the best policy,” said Eliscue.

“Well, you’re new to the game,” said Mr. Sullivan. “You have to have faith in yourselves. Not give up. I know you can do well. I just know it.”

“How come you know,” asked Saltz, “and we don’t?”

Mr. Sullivan seemed taken aback. “I just do,” he said.

“Any evidence?” asked Dorman.

The principal became very serious. “Boys,” he said, “if you believe in yourselves, you can do anything.” [pg. 33]

I was delighted by the boys’ response to this drivel. As if believing in yourself works miracles!

“I think it’s wonderful how you won’t give up,” Ms. Appleton said to us. Since we did want to give up, we looked at her blankly.

“I knew you were bright and hard working, all of you,” she said. “I didn’t know you had so much courage.”

We hadn’t noticed that either.

“I mean it,” she said. “I’d like to come to your next game and cheer you on. Would you mind?”

“It’s ugly,” warned Lifsom.

“Sick,” agreed Hays.

“Don’t worry. You’ll win,” she said brightly.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I asked her.

“Because you work so hard. And when you work hard like that, you win.” She said it with such a nice smile, I wanted to believe that too. [pgs. 52]

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that when a person encounters hardships, he should fight against them, and fight hard. He should never give up, but should do his best. That is, if a battle is worth fighting. But these boys found no value in sports, and frankly, I can’t blame them.

Like thieves, we met behind the school, out of sight. I looked around. I could see everybody was feeling rotten.

“I’m sick and tired of people telling me we have to win,” said Root.

“I think my folks are getting ready to disown me,” said Hays. “My brother and sister too.”

“Why can’t they just let us lose?” asked Macht.

“Yeah,” said Barish, “because we’re not going to win.”

For a moment it looked like everyone was going to start to cry.

“I’d just like to do my math,” said Macht. “I like that.”

There it was. Something clicked. “Hays,” I said, “you’re good at music, right.”

“Yeah, well, sure.”

“Okay. And Macht, what’s the lowest score you’ve pulled in math so far?”

“A-plus.”

“Last year?”

“Same.”

“Lifsom,” I went on, getting excited, “how’s your painting coming?”

“I just finished something real neat and . . .”

“That’s it,” I cut in, because that kid can go on forever about his painting. “Every one of us is good at something. Right? Maybe more than one thing. The point is, other things.”

“Sure,” said Barish.

“Except,” put in Saltz, “sports.”

“Doesn’t bother me to lose at sports,” I said. “At least, it didn’t bother me until I let other people make me bothered.”

“I can see some of it,” I said. “you know, doing something different. But I don’t like sports. I’m not good at it. I don’t enjoy it. So I say, so what?”

“Yeah,” said Radosh. “How come sports is so important?” [pgs. 76-78]

How come, indeed?

If I were to give you all of the funny quotes, I would be posting the entire book. So I’ll limit myself to just three. This occurs just after the team has lost its first game.

Then it was Mr. Lester’s turn. “Gentlemen,” he said, taking a quick look over his shoulder to make sure we were still alone, “I want to tell you how proud I am of you. You didn’t give in.”

“I bet he admired World War Two kamikaze flyers too,” whispered Saltz into my ear. “The suicide guys.”

“You kept up your spirits,” continued Mr. Lester.

“Nothing else to keep up,” said Radosh.

“You showed courage and character.”

“What about talent?” called out Porter.

“Or skill?” Dorman offered.

Mr. Lester pressed on. “Each week, from experience and practice, you’ll get better. I know you will. You have nothing to be ashamed about. Their coach told me he was impressed.”

“With what?” asked Macht.

Mr. Lester said nothing.

“Mr. Lester,” Hays called out. “How come, by the end of the game, they only had four men on the field? Is that legal?”

Mr. Lester blushed. “They were being sporting,” he murmured and quickly sat down.

“Sporting?” said Saltz to me. “If they really wanted to give us a chance, they should have all gotten off the field. Those four guys scored five goals.”

“What makes you think, if they had none, we would have scored any?” asked Radosh.

No one answered. [pgs. 16-17]

Hehe. Here Ed recounts their second game in which they score their ‘first goal’.

They were on the attack. They were always on the attack. But in this case they had brought the ball nicely down the left line, passed it to the middle guys, pretty much in front of me – that is, in front of the goal.

Meanwhile, my trusty buddy Saltz, as well as Root and Hays, were right in there, flailing away, hacking with their feet, rear ends, heads, whatever they found useful and close to the ball. But the ball kept getting closer.

I crouched, ready to miss.

The ball squirted loose. Hays was right there and gave it a kick with the swift instinct of a true player. Right into our goal.

Point for them.

The best part was when the ball went in and the Shoreham team all lifted their arms. That’s a soccer tradition, airing your armpits after all that footwork. Anyway, I saw Hays lift his arms too, with this great idiot’s grin of success on his face.

Radosh tipped him off, delicately. “Wrong side, bozo,” he said.

Hays’ grin dropped like lead weights. He stood there, truly shaken.

Oh, well.

At another furious part of the game, I remember looking across the field and noticing that their goal-tender was lying flat on his back, hands beneath his head, taking a sun bath. That really made me mad. I was still glaring at him as their twenty-second goal went whizzing past my eyes.

Final score: 40 – 0

Radosh sure was delicate… This next, the longest and last that I shall quote occurs when the boys are playing on a rainy day. You may notice that later in this quote, Ed reports some ‘lowlights’. These are his version of ‘highlights’.

I’ve read books, a couple, about World War I. Trench warfare. It was nothing compared to our game. The whole field was like a bottomless mud pit. When we began, the muck was over my shoes. From there on, it got worse.

For example, when the ball came down, instead of bounding, it would hit with a humungous “SPLAT!” showering mud everywhere, and sticking wherever it touched. It got so waterlogged it was like kicking a cannonball.

Some lowlights. We were losing, naturally, by about twenty-one to nothing. I was already a little shellshocked. I didn’t mind the trench warfare so much. But it was like they were using me for target practice.

There I was, leaping this way and that, like a wet cow trying out for the lead role in a Spiderman movie. It got so bad that after a while, when I looked up, I noticed our team had retreated into a kind of wet, human-wall, semicircle around our goal. As walls went, it wasn’t exactly the Great Wall of China. More like Jericho when it kept tumbling down. Shots kept coming in.

Once, I took this great leap. Somehow I ticked the ball with my frozen fingers when it went into the net (making it thirty-two to nothing). I did have the satisfaction of seeing that at least the ball went in crooked. But then, when I came down in the muck I lost my wind. And all desire to get up. I just lay there in the mud and rain, relaxed and feeling curiously happy.

Next thing I knew Mr. Lester as well as my mother and father were squatting down over me.

“Ed! Ed! You all right?” I heard my mother cry.

I opened my eyes. For reasons I don’t understand, they were trying to keep the rain off me. Why then?

“Are you all right?” asked Mr. Lester in that super-quiet voice he reserves for true panic.

I remembered: I was his best player.

“Sure,” I said, perfectly calm. “I love this.”

My father didn’t like that. “Get up, Ed,” he urged.

“It’s safer here,” I said.

That was the big difference between World War I and our game. After being shellshocked those guys got to go to Paris for a weekend of fun. I was told to be a target again.

My favorite memory of that afternoon, however, came a little later. I saw the ball come to rest in a puddle – actually the whole field was a puddle – this one was just a fathom or so deeper than everywhere else. The resting ball, however, brought Eliscue and Macht at a gallop, each running at the ball full-tilt, neither seeing the other.

They met that ball with a huge “Bong!” It must have been at the exact same moment, for the ball went up, I mean straight up, somewhere into the rain clouds.

The two guys just stood there, bewildered, turning around, back to back, one against the other, trying to figure out where the ball had gone. Well, since it went straight up, it came straight down. It hit them both on their heads at the same moment. And it was a heavy, waterlogged ball. Well . . .

Down they went, knocked out. Both of them. [pg. 48-50]

Cautions.

The boys all treat adults as equals. They are not aggressively sarcastic, but whenever adults make silly statements, they have no problem with being a ‘smart’.

“You’re going to win,” my father announced.

“How do you know?” I snapped.

“I sense it.”

“Didn’t know you could tell the future.”

“Don’t be so smart,” he returned. “I’m trying to be supportive.” [pg. 72]

The boys get frustrated with several adults who insist on breathing feel-good psychology down their necks.

Ed is interested in a “gifted, talented, and excessively beautiful” girl named Lucy Neblet. Nothing happens between them except one phone-call and one meeting behind the school scheduled by a note she passed to him. She tries to encourage him to do better and he gets angry.

An adult asks the boys if any of them have girlfriends. Only one of them raises his hand.

Probably the most shocking bit in the whole book occurs when Ed’s father comes to talk to him.

“I suddenly had this wild notion that we were going to talk about sex! Trying not to show it, I got interested. I mean, we were due. [pg. 41]

: / I really wish that had been left out – it turns out that his father was there to talk about the soccer team. Later, when his father tries to have another conversation with him, Ed thinks, “I didn’t even want to talk sex.” [pg. 50] These two comments could be blotted out without making the sections senseless.

Rock-n-roll is mentioned twice.

‘Frig’ and ‘gosh’ are each used once.

Conclusion. I enjoyed this story. Boy did I enjoy it. And if you ever come across a copy of it, pick it up and read it yourself – it’ll give you a good laugh. But whether S.O.R. Losers is fit material for your children, I leave you to judge from my cautions. Personally, I probably wouldn’t give it to my young children, but I would allow my teen-agers to read it for laughs.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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