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Neely was once star quarterback for Messina High School's football team, but his playing days ended with an injury. For 15 years he's been trying to forget his past as sporting hero but has been unable to move on. That is until the man who moulded him, Coach Eddie Rake, reveals he's dying.
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Grisham explores the fanatic world of high school football in its glory and seaminess through the collective and varied memories regarding Messina High's legendary coach, Eddie Rake. Teams from his storied career gather in a deathbed vigil. Through the reminiscences, particularly those of all-American quarterback Neely Crenshaw, Silo Mooney, and other Spartan teammates from 15 years ago, a complex portrait of the coach, his dynasty, and his impact on the town and their lives emerges. Grisham creates vivid, realistic characters whose heroism and flaws are examined from a multitude of angles as they wrestle with their love/hate relationship with Coach Rake, revealing a humanity not always apparent or as balanced in his legal novels. Rather than following the usual route to film, given its length, narrative style, and setting, Bleachers could be a strong stage play. The author makes his debut as a reader and does a very credible job. Highly recommended.AJoyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-A small klatch of players on Messina High School's 1987 football team assembles on the bleachers of Rake Field, home of the winning Spartans, and named after their controversial coach. Eddie Rake was the bane and bounty of three decades of athletes, and now he is dying. His personality comes to life as his team members recollect what it was like to play for him. As they come to roost on the bleachers, they all have a story from the coach's school of hard knocks. This is especially true of all-American quarterback, Neely Crenshaw. Coping with setbacks, longing for an old flame, and trying to make sense of the impending passing of the man who pushed him to the brink but whom he ultimately eulogizes is Neely's lot, and, readers can hope, the beginning of better luck. Teens will jeer and cheer in the appropriate places as they keep turning the pages, and, like the flavorful characters, will gain understanding from the perspective of the stands.-Karen Sokol, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Grisham demonstrated he could produce bestsellers without legal aid with The Painted House and Skipping Christmas, and he'll undoubtedly do so again with this slight but likable novel of high school football, a legendary coach and the perils of too early fame. Fifteen years after graduation, Neely Crenshaw, one-time star quarterback of the Messina Spartans, returns home on hearing news of the impending death of tough-as-nails coach Eddie Rake. Neely knows the score: "When you're famous at eighteen, you spend the rest of your life fading away." It's a lesson he's learned the hard way after destroying his knee playing college ball and drifting through life in an ever-downward spiral. He and his former teammates sit in the bleachers at the high school stadium waiting for Rake to die, drinking beer and reminiscing. There is a mystery involving the legendary '87 championship, and Neely has unfinished business with an old high school sweetheart, but neither story line comes to much. Readers will guess the solution to the mystery, as does the town police chief when it's divulged to him (" `We sorta figured it out,' said Mal") and Neely's former girlfriend doesn't want to have anything to do with his protestations of love ("You'll get over it. Takes about ten years"). The stirring funeral scene may elicit a few tears, but Neely's eulogy falls curiously flat. After living through four hard days in Messina, the lessons Neely learns are unremarkable ("Those days are gone now"). Many readers will come away having enjoyed the time spent, but wishing there had been a more sympathetic lead character, more originality, more pages, more story and more depth. (Sept. 9) Forecast: This is an "in between" book, with Grisham's next legal thriller due out in February. Print run is said to be two million copies-about 800,000 fewer than Grisham's legal thrillers, but still huge. The audio version of the book will be released on the same date as the print version, with Grisham doing the reading himself. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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