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“You can’t help anybody unless you’re willing to hear their story,” Walter. —Losers Bracket
by Chris Crutcher
AR Test, Must Read
Annie’s two worlds collide when her biological family and foster family both come to watch her swim meet. A fight breaks out between the two families resulting in Annie’s nephew, Frankie, running away. Annie must rely on her friends, her foster brother, and her social service worker to help her better understand her biological family. In the end, Annie vows to help Frankie find a safe home.
Annie finds refuge from her troubles when attending a book club. In the book club, Annie and other high school students engage in discussions about heroism, family, and stories. These discussions help Annie make sense of her life. Annie also finds support and comfort in her best friend, Leah, and in Walter, a good-hearted biker.
Although Annie partakes in basketball and swimming, there are no play-by-play sports scenes and hardly any sports terminology is used. While sports give Annie an outlet to let off some steam, their main function is to give Annie’s mother an opportunity to see her. Sports fans may be disappointed by the lack of sports scenes.
Crutcher portrays a realistic take on the life of a foster child, and clearly and realistically communicates Annie’s intense feelings. The book is told in the first person, and Annie does not sugarcoat any of her feelings or experiences. Annie constantly disregards her foster parents’ rules, but she is very empathetic. Throughout the book, Annie learns that people can be immeasurably kind and selfless. She also learns to appreciate and love her biological family, even if they behave poorly. Loser Bracket teaches that everyone deserves to tell their own story.
Even though Loser Bracket is written at a fifth-grade reading level, the story hits on tough, mature topics such as abortion, obesity, domestic violence, and suicide. For example, Annie’s sister tries to kill herself and her son by driving her car into a lake. A must-read for mature readers, Losers Bracket is a thought-provoking book about what it means to call someone “family.”
- When Annie says she is going to suck at the butterfly stroke, Leah tells her it doesn’t have to be pretty because Annie “gets to dazzle some young horny Michael Phelps never-be studs laying out on a blanket in your skimpy Speedo two-piece between races.”
- Annie thinks, “There is something powerful about making guys drool, even if they’re doughy little boys three to six years younger, walking around between races with their beach towels high up under their boy boobs to hide their cottage cheese handles. I’m pretty sure this sick little part of me has something to do with what Nancy calls my ‘Boots wiring,’ which is designed to ‘git yourself a man.’”
- Annie talks about past experiences where she realized she could use her body to her advantage.
- Annie’s mother encouraged Annie to use her body to her advantage. Annie’s mother “told me every chance she got that ‘them titties’ could get me all of what I needed and most of what I wanted. I’m not going into it, but mostly they got me fingerprints and lies.” Annie goes on to say she is “not going down that road,” and she only dates a guy “if he keeps his hands in his pockets.”
- Annie thinks her swim coach’s girlfriend “doesn’t like the way I twitch my bikini butt at her boyfriend.”
- At book club, Annie thinks a boy will remember Maddy because of her “outstanding cleavage.”
- During book club, Maddy tells a boy to speak up and, “make your voice like your pecs.” Annie explains, “If he does make his voice like his pecs, it will be loud and clear . . . almost any T-shirt fits him like a coat of paint.”
- Marvin, Annie’s foster brother, tells Annie he can hear his parents talking in their room through the heat grate in his room. He says, “Unfortunately, that’s not all you hear,” hinting that he can hear his parents having sex.
- Although the word “masturbation” is never used, Marvin hints that he does it. He tells Annie, “Hey, everyone thinks guys my age are stumbling into puberty trying to figure out what to do with our di. . . private parts. I know exactly what to do with my private parts; I just don’t know who to do it with. Except for, you know, myself.” He goes on to tell Annie how his dad got him a kitten to “keep him from practicing” because “when a kitten sees something moving under the covers, he pounces.”
- Annie describes the show The Leftovers. “On October 14 of whatever year, at the exact same moment, two percent of the population of Earth vanished . . . if you were some guy making love with one of the two percent, you better be on a soft mattress because you’re going to fall about a foot. Farther if it happened to be Nancy. . . these ‘leftover’ people screw like rabbits, because who knows when it will happen again.”
- Annie jokingly tells Marvin to “memorize the naked scenes” on the show they’re watching because “there will be a test.” Marvin answers, “Which I will pass with flying colors. I may even go on the Internet afterward to pick up some extra credit.”
- Someone tells Annie, “You’re almost eighteen. In some cultures, you’d be a sex slave by now.”
- When Annie’s mom doesn’t show up to her swim practices, Annie feels an emptiness. But when she does show up, Annie is ready for a fight. Annie thinks her brain is “wired backwards,” and compares this phenomenon to “those chicks who cut on themselves; no obvious upside, but every one of them says there’s relief when the blade or the piece of glass slices through.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Walter says Annie’s mom didn’t show up to the basketball game because “Something urgent came up.” Annie asks, “Was it in a pill bottle?”
- Annie watches her nephew Frankie play with two stuffed animals. He makes them talk, saying they “don’t need no dads ‘cause they do drugs and go to jail. And they hurted our mom.”
- At Annie’s swim meet, her biological and foster families get into a fight. Annie recounts, “Sheila [Annie’s sister], who must be high, is convinced these people [her foster family] are actually here to taunt me.”
- Annie and her best friend, Leah, spend hours looking for Frankie. When Leah tries to reassure her, Annie says, “Yeah, well, tell you what’s about to happen with my drug-crazed whore of a sister. She’ll get on TV and cry and say what a wonderful little guy her Frankie was and how desperate and brokenhearted she is, and when it dies down she’ll double her drug use and Frankie will just be another awful Boots memory.”
- Leah says humans “get a nine-month head start with our mothers, no matter how messed up they are . . . We eat what they eat, share their fluids. . . Biology doesn’t separate vitamins from drugs.”
- Someone tells Annie that her sister is dropping weight fast. Annie asks, “Like a meth user? Does she still have teeth?”
- The family goes to Quik Mart every year for Thanksgiving dinner. “Though Quik Mart sells wine, you’re not allowed to drink on the premises, so Walter buys a few bottles and hides them in the toilet tank in each restroom, where you sneak in to fill the Diet Pepsi can you brought inside your backpack.”
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: crappy, crap, bitch, bitchy, son-of-a-bitch, ass, asshole, hard-ass, dumb-ass, kick-ass, shitty, shit, shithole, bullshit, damn, damned, hell, bastard, goddamn, fuckin, fuck, bigot, and piss off.
- Lord, Jesus, God, Oh my God, and For Chrissake are all used several times as exclamations.
- One of the characters is referred to as a dyke.
- When Annie is losing a swim race, she was “cursing Janine like she’s the Antichrist.”
- A woman says she is married with two kids that she would “murder Jesus for.”
- Annie thanks her coach for “kicking my butt this summer. For keeping me swimming this god-awful butterfly until I got it.”
- Walter tells Wiz, a social worker, “I’m not a religious man, Wiz; don’t know God from no God from Christian God from Muslim God from Star Wars God.”
- At book club, the members talk about heroes. Mark asks about Jesus, and Annie thinks, “Very little of what we discuss doesn’t go back through Nazareth for Mark.” When someone says Jesus isn’t real, Mark says, “Nobody more real than Jesus.”
- Annie thinks, “Mark . . . holds tight to his Christian beliefs, though he never pushes them on you like some people. He also acts on them.”
- Someone tells Mark, “Pinocchio is more real than Jesus.”
- When students in the book club try to place Jesus in the same category of popular culture heroes, Mark says, “I’ve been in church every Sunday and Wednesday night since, like, before I can remember. . . that’s where all my heroes come from, starting with Jesus…I just couldn’t leave Him in with Yoda and Obi-Wan.”
- During the book club’s debate on heroism, someone explains the dilemma of The Last Temptation of Christ.
- When someone searches the river for Frankie but doesn’t find him, Annie thinks, “Thank God.”
- Walter tells Annie how he struggled with PTSD. “I’d tried everything . . . Every church told me something different – didn’t know whether to let Jesus save me or save myself.” He goes on to say how he almost went “out the easy way,” but realized “if I jump and there’s a god, I’m going to have to account for myself.”
- Walter tells Annie he wanted to help her biological mother, and Annie asks if he thought God was testing him. Walter answers, “The world tests you, Annie. If there’s a god, he has bigger fish to fry.”
- Mark tells the book club about his sister who had an abortion and was thus banished from his religious family. Annie tells Mark, “If you do go to [your sister] you lose seven other people, all family.” Mark adds, “And Jesus.”
- Another book club member says, “I go to church, too, and the Jesus I know would treat your mother like a money changer, no offense to your mother.”
- Annie thinks, “I remember talking with Mark about God one night after book club last year, walking away thinking I hope he’s right. I hoped some great big entity is watching, some entity who wants things to turn out right . . . and who has the power to make that happen. But at the same time I was afraid to want it, because of how much it hurts to not get it.”
by Jill Johnson