A novel for teen readers that weaves together athletics, friendship, and the realities of middle school,The Blue Marauders is complex and layered, aimed at lovers of sports stories and the underdog narrative.
In a small American town, a group of soccer buddies are disappointed when they don’t all make the team for the U13 (under age 13) Tri-State League. They decide to start their own rival team, pulling in local characters and gaining the support of their community. They must face off against the professionalized, well-financed teams in their league, putting their scrappiness to the test. As they navigate puberty, school, and their own competitive nature, infighting threatens to destroy the Blue Marauders, forcing the main characters to mature and learn to navigate the pitfalls of teamwork and to collaborate.
Although far from new, the underlying story in this novel is a compelling one. The characters—relatable and believable—have great heart and drive. Nick in particular is a flawed but courageous leader for the Blue Marauders and an admirable protagonist.
The novel is so involved in the minutia of its characters’ days and small town life, however, that the pace feels very slow—for any novel, but particularly for one intended for teen readers (the novel falls somewhere between a middle grade and young adult read; the author notes that it’s aimed at 12-14 year olds). Meticulous classroom scenes vie for attention alongside exhaustive descriptions of soccer practice and games, not to mention the conversations that occur in between these touchstone events. Unfortunately, this will lead many readers to lose interest in the story.
This novel ignores the forest for the trees, and in the process loses its momentum. At 350 pages, this can make for a daunting read. Still, male protagonists are hard to find in juvenile fiction, and the ones in The Blue Marauders are particularly well drawn. Readers may appreciate the book on this basis.