Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ponga Boy by Phil Lebherz and Philip Reed

Ponga Boy
by Phil Lebherz and Philip Reed

Published: 2009
Genre: Coming of Age, Sports, YA
Hardback: 180 pages

Description from the amazon:
Ponga Boy is the story of a young Mexican boy s journey from small town fisherman to college soccer megastar. Pichu Castillian, alias Ponga Boy, grew up in an impoverished fishing village at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. Pichu is the heart and soul of the dock, a local legend who works the bait fishing boats, or pongas, with his father, and amazes locals and tourists alike with his feats of athleticism. One day he attracts the attention of two American collegiate soccer coaches. After witnessing Pichu s abilities, they offer him the opportunity of a lifetime a tryout with the University of San Francisco soccer team and a full scholarship. Pichu embarks on a journey that goes beyond soccer as he enters a world that challenges everything he s ever known and leads him to confront who he is and what he really wants in life.

Hubby's review:
I read Ponga Boy by Phil Lebherz and Philip Reed as a football fan and as a favor to my wife who asked me to review it. When I refer to football, I am referring to what we call soccer in the United States, but what is known throughout the rest of the world as football. Ponga Boy is directed at a teen age and young adult audience. It is about football. It is about environmentalism. It is about the pressures of modern civilization versus a simpler life. It is about a boy, Pichu -- nicknamed Ponga Boy at a later point in the book -- coming of age.

Ponga Boy is a very readable book. It was not boring and it flowed along well. As a football fan I found it fantastic in the negative sense of the word -- pure fantasy. The authors use the football jargon well enough to describe the footballing. The referees of Ponga Boy are blind or are calling games for Las Vegas. The opposing players get away with flagrant red-card offenses on the ball that no referee could miss. The skills of Pichu are also pure fantasy. At one point, Pichu runs up on one of his own players, jumps onto his shoulder with his cleats, and uses him as a gymnastics springboard to turn a flip and kick a Pele-meets-Nadia Komenich goal. I suppose the player-cum-springboard could be an iron shoulder kung-fu master to be able to withstand having cleats dug into his shoulder, but the utter lack of realism was a detraction for me.

I did say that Ponga Boy is readable however. Ponga Boy is not all, or even mostly about soccer. It is about a boy growing up in a reletively simple lifestyle where a lofty aspiration is for a man to own his own ponga boat. A ponga boat is a small open fishing boat with an outboard motor. Pichu's prodigious football talent is the means by which he is removed from this life and sent to university. At the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit university, he plays football on a scholarship. We spend a good deal of time following his adjustment to life at the university and to his place on the team. He has to figure out how to gain acceptance on the team. This process involves sex, drugs, alcohol, physical competition and a Yoda-like grounds keeper. He also has to figure out his priorities. Through letters and calls he hears that the lifestyle of his village is being threatened by modern fishing practices. Pichu developes an interest in conservation and marine biology and is pulled in two directions. His destiny seems to be to become a football super-megastar who will make us forget Diego Maradona. But the simple lifestyle of his boyhood is calling him and he wants to preserrve it. What will his choice be?

Ponga Boy exults and patronizes the simple life of Pichu's village and derides our lifestyle here in the United States. I'm not going to fault it too much for that since we do lead a very energy-intensive, materialistic and wasteful lifestyle here. But I will fault it because it makes Pichu's choice inevitable. That really doesn't matter though. We always knew that Achilles would kill Hector. For all its readability, and despite its inevitability, Ponga Boy is worth the time if you want to be entertained, but not be intellectually taxed too much. It is a good read for it's intended audience.

* guest post review by hubby - kvb (thanks)

*review copy
Thanks to Monk Media and Atlas Books

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