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Given that we've been inundated with tales of woe from Hurricane Katrina and that you can count the good books that have been written about football on Mordecai Brown's right hand, it's hard to hold out much hope for this one. The peculiar genius of the story here though is that it doesn't really have much to do with the storm or the sport. Rather, they are the backdrops against which Mr. Thompson sets the moving tale of John T. Curtis Sr., who founded an integrated high school--John Curtis Christian--outside New Orleans in the early 1960s and turned it into a football powerhouse, and of his son, John Jr. (J. T.), who continues the social, scholastic, and sports missions.

While it's easy to be cynical about the corruption and corner-trimming that surrounds big-time high school football and the Curtises are just as obsessive as we'd expect head coaches to be--the younger continuing a practice even as the Hurricane descends--it is the way they diverge from the norm that makes them fascinating. Indeed, the best scenes in the book come when J.T.'s two best players--Jonathan English and Joe McKnight--end up living at his house, chafing under the discipline he imposes at the same time that they're grateful for a home and a coach who genuinely cares about them.

My one complaint about the book is that the first person narration is somewhat misleading, since Mr. Thompson became interested in the team only after reading about their season in ESPN, in a great essay by Wright Thompson. If we can understand why an author might think this would give his story immediacy, we can also wish an editor had told him it borders on dishonesty. And it is unfortunate that this objection niggles at the reader even as the story Mr. Thompson has to tell compels.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Sports (General)
Neal Thompson Links:

    -BOOK SITE: Hurricane Season (Written Voices)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Hurricane Season (SimonSays)
    -ESSAY: Hurricane Season: A teen without much of a home even before the killer storm struck New Orleans, Joe McKnight escaped the devastation to find a second family, greater high school glory and renewed hope of playing college football: Adapted from Hurricane Season By Neal Thompson (Neal Thompson, July 23, 2007, Sports Illustrated)
    -EXCERPT: Walk by Faith, Not by Sight: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a New Orleans high school football coach helps his team recover their winning spirit. (Neal Thompson)
    -ESSAY: A Heck of a Job? (Neal Thompson, August 29, 2007, Huffington Post)
    -INTERVIEW: Football in the Time of Katrina: The chronicler of a New Orleans high-school champion tells Gelf how the John Curtis Patriots helped heal their fans, their families, and themselves. (Carl Bialik, 9/04/07, Gelf Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: with Neal Thompson (Campaign for the American Reader, 8/28/07)
    -ARCHIVES: "neal thompson" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and Their Triumph in the Time of Katrina by Neal Thompson (Richard Sandomir, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Bob Frisk, Daily Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Kim Lumpkin, Culture Cartel)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (World's Football News)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Mary McCoy, PopMatters)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Damian Penny, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (Mary Alma Durrett, Paste)
    -REVIEW: of Hurricane Season (David Locker, Evansville Courier Press)
    -REVIEW: of Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard, America's First Spaceman by Neal Thompson (Flight Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Light this Candle (David W. Munns, Sea Power)
    -REVIEW: of Light this Candle (Jeff Foust, The Space Review)
    -REVIEW: of Light this Candle (Mark Mortimer, Universe Today)

Book-related and General Links:

    -John Curtis Christian School
    -ESSAY: A Testament To Faith (Wright Thompson, December 16, 2005, ESPN)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Legends in Sports - New Orleans Coach JT Curtis (Michael Cooper Sports Talk)
    -PROFILE: McKnight will visit with an old friend (Gary Klein, 11/16/07, Los Angeles Times)
    -PROFILE: Matchup reunites ex-teammates (Jeff Metcalfe, Nov. 16, 2007, The Arizona Republic)