A book of six powerful short YA stories, Athletic Shorts by author Chris Crutcher, is attention-grabbing. Each story has a hook early on that keeps the reader right there in the palm of Crutcher's hand, enticing them to turn the page to continue on in the story. Three of the stories have protagonists from other novels written by Crutcher, but all of the stories stand on their own. Each story is prefaced with a personal explanation of the character and the story from the author, adding a deeper dimension to each account. The stories feature real life problems from a single male viewpoint, in first person.
The plot in each story features problems that are concentrated and intense. For example, in A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Buthune, the main character, Angus is fat, his biological parents have divorced and married homosexual partners, as a prank he has been crowned Senior Winter Ball King and he has to dance with his dream girl on stage. In a few short pages (20), Crutcher is able to insightfully gather and project onto the pages the emotions and feelings of an imperfect teenager in the harsh and cruel world that everyone must pass through on the bumpy journey to adulthood. Buthane's dream girl has been crowned queen and she openly reveals her problem of bulimia to him (perfect people aren't perfect either). They seem to have formed a bond. She coaches him through the dance, which ends in rousing applause. She leaves the dance with Angus leaving her cruel and steamed "golden boy" boyfriend in the dust. The ending is happy in this story, as in all the rest.
The stories have interesting twists to them. In The Other Pin, it is a surprise to the reader that the feared wrestling opponent is a girl. In the Time I Get it is a surprise to the reader that the lost girlfriend has died, not broken up with Louie.
The stories are set in Idaho and Montana and the plots all have a sports theme running through them. Sports are simply a high interest backdrop for the stories that will appeal to contemporary boys. The issues go so much deeper. The main characters in the stories wrestle some invisible demon (fear, racial prejudice, prejudice against and fear of homosexuality, hatred/ bitterness, difficulty with a parent) of and all of them win. The stories, unlike Cormiers work, end on a positive note with the protagonist coming out at the end with a problem resolved and a better person for the experience.
The adults in the book play a background role. The elderly grandfather in The Pin and Dakota, the uncle in In the Time I Get, are portrayed as wise and kind, unlike most of the parents in the book. In The Pin the father plays a significant role. It isnt a positive portrayal, but the story ends hopeful with the boy's father in tears about how he has treated his son.
This is a fantastic read for boys who are looking for a book that they can relate to; stories of boys passing through a time in their life with fear, pain and uncertainty. Crutcher crawls into the protagonist's brains for a brief moment in time and opens the latch, enabling readers a peek into their private pain and journey to constructive self-discovery.
Crutcher, Chris. 1991. ATHLETIC SHORTS. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-440-21390-8.