Muckers: Review, Guest Post, & Giveaway

Published By: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Page Count: 288
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction, Sports

I was intrigued by the novel due to its historical roots and the focus on football. I have always been a huge football fan; Autumn is my favorite season as a result. I love the cooler temperatures and watching the college ball on Saturday and pro ball on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday. Football is one of those things that just makes my heart happy. 

Not only was I impressed by the amount of historical research that dominates these pages, but Wallace really knows her football as well. She is a former employee of ESPN so I shouldn't have worried about that aspect. I have to admit I also love seeing women involved with football. It's nice to know that there are others who share my passion for the sport.

Muckers tells the story of a football team in a struggling mining town in Arizona. I found this one to be reminiscent of The Outsiders with a dose of Rudy mixed in. It was nice to read about a group of guys that were not wealthy or devastatingly gorgeous for a change. I liked that these characters were real and raw. The struggles of the town takes a toll on the main characters and I found their story to be inspiring. I have always enjoyed reading about the stories that have been largely ignored in the past. I particularly enjoyed that Mexican characters played a prominent role. I often have trouble finding novels that showcase this culture. I was so excited to finally find a well written book that would appeal to my male students of all races, but also one that would allow my Mexican students to see themselves reflected in the characters. Also, who doesn't love a great underdog story?

In addition to the great football moments and the realistic, multicultural characters, I found that Wallace also painted a portrait that focused on the historical and social issues of the 1950's. The Red Scare is in full swing and racism is deeply entrenched in many minds. Segregation is not just between whites and African Americans during this time period; I feel its important for teens to learn about other groups who faced discrimination. Issues of social justice and socioeconomic status also arise throughout this novel. The effects of the Korean War also take center stage from time to time. There are just so many juicy historical tidbits contained within these pages.

My only complaint was that it did take me awhile to settle into the narration. Part of this is solely my fault. I rarely read books with male main characters; it can be difficult for me to step into the male mind. I was thrown off by some of the conversations the boys had and kept having to remind myself that this is typical teenage boy behavior. Once I settled into the story and the male mindset, I quickly lost myself in this town and this team.

One Last Gripe: I mentioned my only complaint in the review. I have no gripes other than that one and again, I fully admit that was a personal issue, not an issue with the novel itself.

My Favorite Thing About this Book: It's a tie between the football and the rich historical details

First Sentence: I come to the shanty in the Barrio from behind, dipping under the broken shutters so the late-October moon won't cast a shadow and wake up Cruz.

Favorite Character: Red

Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.

Former ESPN sportscaster Sandra Neil Wallace (wife to Knopf author Rich Wallace) makes her young adult novel debut with a historical fiction story that is equal partsHoosiers and October Sky. Felix O'Sullivan's world is crumbling around him: the mine that employs most of town is on the brink of closing, threatening to shutter the entire town. And Felix, or Red, after his fire-colored hair, will be one of 24 students in the final graduating class of his local high school. But Red's got his own burdens to bear: his older brother, Bobby, died in the war, and he's been struggling to follow in his footsteps ever since. That means assuming Bobby's old position as quarterback, and leading the last-ever Muckers team to the championship. Maybe then his angry, broken-hearted father will acknowledge him, and they'll be able to put Bobby's death behind them.

But the only way for the hardscrabble Muckers team to win State is to go undefeated, and tackle their biggest rival, Phoenix United, which would be something of a miracle. Luckily, miracles can happen all the time on the field. Fans of Friday Night Lights and Tim Tharp's Knights of the Hill Country will take to this enthralling story of a town rallying together to turn a tragedy into a triumph. 

Touring the Wild Mountain Town That Inspired Muckers 
By: Sandra Neil Wallace

Jerome needs to be seen to be believed. 

 Usually when you visit “wild towns” of the west, you get gimmicky shows and hype much greater than what really happened. 

 Not with Jerome, Arizona—the real town that inspired the fictional setting of Hatley in my novel, Muckers. There are no “shoot-outs” in the mile-high town or overblown stories. As my character Red O’Sullivan says, “By the time you reach the top floor, you know the stories must be true.” I don’t know of any Jerome story that exceeds the outlandishness of the town, and some of its landmarks worked their way into my novel. 

Above the oldest saloons and eateries in Arizona are views of mountains and red rocks that rival the Grand Canyon, Victorian homes built on stilts, asylums-turned-hotels, and brothels converted into beautiful shops & galleries. Any other buildings that survived the 50 years of mine blasting have been left virtually the way they were 100 years ago. Including the sliding jail, which slid a block before landing past Hull Avenue. It’s where Red and Cruz enjoy bowling in my novel. 

 When I first caught sight of Jerome, I didn’t think it was real. In the distance, all you see are scattered rows of houses that seem suspended in space in front of a red rock mountain. Dangling over these homes like a shining star is a 3-story-high letter “J” marked in stone and nestled into the hill before the mountain goes vertical.

To the right is a gaping hole that was blasted out of the mountain when Jerome was a billion dollar copper camp in the early 20th century. Next to that open pit is where the Jerome Muckers played football on a field of slag and rocks cast off from the mines. 

 “How do you even get to the town?” I wondered. I’d just moved to nearby Sedona. 

 Inching closer from the highway, it seems like it will be easy. Then the turn-off takes you onto zigzagging switchbacks cut through concave slopes of green. I’d spend many trips white-knuckled, hoping that my rental car would make it up the steep incline. (Later, getting a tour from one of the surviving Muckers players, I was still white-knuckled as he pointed to the pit and the field, taking his eyes off the hairpin turns as if the curves were part of his DNA.) 

But the field and the open pit are really at the end of the town. I want to start at the beginning: Jerome High School. 

I’m always struck by the magnificence of this sandstone-colored building. Abandoned for decades, it’s now filled with art studios. But when I started writing Muckers, I’d climb up to the auditorium balcony and write my chapters, while squatters living in the building made me coffee and shared their recollections. 

Believe it or not, one of my favorite places is the fire escape at the side of the school, facing the gymnasium. I’d imagine my character Red being able to take refuge here and think, before school started. 

 Sitting on the front steps of the school by the copper doors, it’s hard to imagine that the Gulch you’re looking out at was without any vegetation back in 1950—it was killed off by the smelter’s sulfur smoke.

But the pollution couldn’t tarnish the pinks and blues of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff seen from the steps—a view that caused gasps of wonder from Jerome’s first settlers. 

 The Gulch is my favorite part of Jerome. It sits just below the mountain, where Mexican-American miners and their families lived in a section known as the Barrio, and where Red’s best friend Cruz lives. Red finds comfort in the Villanueva home. I find it in the cemetery nearby, where I wrote the ending of Muckers. Being surrounded by plots encased in wrought iron with engravings dating to the Spanish American War, it’s the quietest spot in Jerome, and surprisingly peaceful. In the distance you can glimpse the stone foundation of the “Foreign” pool, built for Mexican-Americans in the 1930s. Once it was too damaged from blasting to be used, there were separate swim times at the “American” pool, located just beyond the football field. I found out about the “foreign” pool and segregated hours through heartfelt letters written by Jeromites, telling how devastating it was to have that kind of segregation. 

But on the Jerome football field it didn’t matter what your ethnicity was. Players came together as a team to play on the slag rock surface. Walking on Main Street past the Fire Hall, you’ll get to where the field once was. (It’s now a parking lot.) But the rocks still working their way back up along the sides---and the looming open pit--make it easy to imagine what it was like to play here. The 1950 team—the last football squad Jerome would ever know-- took a bus to the field, stopping at the church first, to be blessed and hopefully spared of all the broken bones, courtesy of Jerome Field, as they made a run at the state championship.

Take a video tour of Jerome with author Sandra Neil Wallace by visiting her YouTube channel

About the Author

A former news anchor and ESPN sportscaster, Sandra Neil Wallace may have snagged her best lead yet in uncovering the inspirational achievements of the Jerome Muckers football team. She discovered the story while sifting through a box of letters and other memorabilia. The trail of letters led her to write Muckers.

Sandra was named an outstanding newcomer to the children’s literature scene by the Horn Book following the publication of her first novel, Little Joe. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, author Rich Wallace, and travels to Jerome, Arizona, to visit the surviving Muckers players.

We have ONE copy of Muckers up for grabs. The giveaway is open to residents of the US only. In order to win you must:

* Be 13+ years old
* Fill out the Rafflecopter below

The giveaway runs from November 7-14. The winners will be contacted via email on November 15. 

Check out the Other Great Blogs on this Tour:

Monday, October 28th:  A Blighted One
Tuesday, October 29th:  Seaside Book Nook
Wednesday, October 30th:  Knowing the Difference
Monday, November 4th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, November 5th:  Teena in Toronto
Thursday, November 7th:  Reading Lark
Monday, November 11th:  Fiction Addict
Tuesday, November 12th:  Sarah’s Book Shelves
Thursday, November 14th:  Sweet Southern Home
Friday, November 15th:  The Daily Mayo
Monday, November 18th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, November 20th:  Books a la Mode
Monday, November 25th:  Patricia’s Wisdom


  1. Hi, Andrea,

    Glad you enjoyed both the football elements and the historical details in MUCKERS. It was a thrill to write, and I still keep in touch with the real Muckers players. Here's the link to the first video tour of the town that inspired my story.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this book! Thanks for being on the tour.


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