Bleachers by John Grisham Book Review
My rating for this book: ♥♥♥♥♥ (5 hearts out of 5)
*rating system located at the end of this hub*
Do not believe all the negative reviews you can find on this book on Amazon. I won't even mention Goodreads, because that site is filled with so much negativity it's a shame. But the comments on this novel on Amazon's website stood out to me a lot more because the negative people seemed to have missed the entire point of the story. The first review on the website dismisses this story as a rip-off of Friday Night Lights because the town in this story had an obsession with football as well as a "mean coach". If that's the case, then Friday Night Lights is a rip-off of Varsity Blues. While you’re at it, Grisham, Varsity Blues and Friday Night Lights ripped off reality since you're going that route, because there really are small towns obsessed with high school football games and players and some of those players really do have "mean" coaches. Get a grip. If I was going with that train of thought then John Green should get called out because the love story between the two teens in his book The Fault in Our Stars may as well have been a rip off the love story in Jodi Picoult's book (and movie) My Sister's Keeper. But let me get back on track here.
Bleachers is 163 pages of awesomeness. Yes, you read that right. This novel has only 163 pages and within those 163 pages I laughed, I got teary (aw hell, fine, I cried), and I enjoyed every single one of the characters so much as well as the overall tale, I started reading it again, all the while wishing my second time reading it was the first. Don't think that a book has to be long for it to be good. Over the years, I've discovered some great stories, like this one, that didn't even cross the 200 page mark.
Before I get into my actual review, let me get this out of the way first…
I didn't read any reviews before I picked up this book. I usually don't do that anyway. I wait until after I've read the story and then I look up reviews. I'm so happy I did. There were the usual complaints that this wasn't "realistic", whatever that means. You picked up a FICTIONAL novel! I've said this so many times, but I'll say it again: If you want absolute realism, pick up a nonfiction book. I hate people that read fiction now and expect every single detail to be within the realm of their fact check. They want the towns to be real, every detail something that would actually happen in their everyday lives, and every location somewhere they can actually visit. I would ask if they're serious with that nonsense, but they really are. I blame shows like CSI, Law & Order, and such. I do. I don't know if that's fair, but…well…I do. What would be the fun of reading a fictional novel if the only thing that is made up is the cast of characters??? It's a writer's job to dive outside of the realm of realism at certain intervals to make the story interesting, otherwise there is no point in writing or reading the book. I've read a lot of so-called "fiction" lately and it's nothing but someone doing a ton of research, grabbing names from a baby book, and calling it fiction. This ain't that type of fiction. Also, if you want to go around calling out "unrealistic" fiction, try picking up a typical romance novel. There, you'll find an unrealistic male character, an unrealistic female, unrealistic circumstances (try kidnappings, car chases, bank heists—all written by people trying to make stupidity exciting), and completely unrealistic endings.
One person said that they doubt real football players would enjoy this story. Dude, this book wasn't necessarily written for football or ex-football players who are looking for absolute realism, it's written for people who want to sit down and enjoy a good friggin' story. While I'll watch a football game every now and then, I'm not a former player, nor do I understand all the ins and outs of football plays and what goes on during the games between the players and their coaches. I understand just enough so that I'm able to grasp most of what's going on during a game. With that said, Grisham gave just enough details in this story where I could understand what was going on without the information completely going over my head. I appreciate the way he explained the game to his readers. I'm pretty sure he realizes that not all of us know football as well as others and he was kind with his explanations. There wasn't too much football jargon and not too little—it was just right.
Another person claimed this book was "boring". To that, I will say this book is not for everybody. All fictional books are like that. You're not going to like everything. But another thing I would like to add to that is just because there isn't constant "action" in this story, does not mean a story is boring, and this story was NOT boring.
It starts out with a man driving up to his old high school, and then walking out to the football field where he used to practice when he was a teenager. He was quietly thinking back to how things were; the character, Neely Crenshaw, was reflecting and wrestling with his past. I guess, that "bored" someone. I will say this: You actually need a brain and the ability to process human emotion to enjoy this book. If that sounds harsh to you, oh well; my other book reviews would probably make you cry.
Now, I'll get to the actual review of Bleachers…
This story is mainly centered on the character, Neely Crenshaw, that has come back to his hometown in Messina (or at least the town where he spent the majority of his youth) because his old high school football coach is dying. Neely isn't the only player coming back. There are hundreds of players coming back together to reflect and pay their respects to their Coach Eddie Rake, whom most aren't sure if they love him or hate him, but none of them can deny the impact he'd had on their lives.
Neely is around 32 or 33 years old at the time of this story. Fictional story and character or not, I'm around the same age that he is in the story right now, as well as a lot of the other characters, and even though Grisham is older than us (*wink*), he nailed the age appropriate emotions spot-on. Trust me when I say that I've read some books where the author is about twenty or thirty years my senior and they no longer know how to relate to a certain age group and not only are the situations askew, but so is the dialogue, etc. Not with this book. He got us with this one. I could picture Neely, Cameron, Silo, Jesse (just a couple of years older) and Paul, and I could relate to their thoughts, regrets, and the way some of them fell short of where they thought things were going to go in their lives.
I have not watched every single football movie or television show. I usually don't read fictional sports novels. If Coach Rake was a copy of any other fictional character, Grisham did a damn good job of making him fit into this story like none other. Not only did I feel as if I knew the man, he's the sort that made me wish I knew someone like him, and at the same time, I'm glad I didn't know anyone like him at all. But I will tell you that Rake is not like the coach in Varsity Blues, though they have similarities. In fact, the person that compared this story to Friday Night Lights probably isn't a fan of Varsity Blues because Bleachers had a lot more in common with VB than FNL. (But of course, there were many people that agreed with the statement; anything to be negative folks, anything for the "thumbs down" crowd to stick it to the popular author.)
I was pulled all over the place with this story (emotionally), mainly because there were no "good" guys or "bad" guys here, they were just people, and I think that's what made me fall in love with this book the most. Grisham is always at his best when he writes this way, and I've read two of his novels where there aren't any real "villains", everybody's just human, and those two books are A Painted House and Bleachers.
I loved reading along with the games that the former players were listening to as they sat in the bleachers at the school on the home side as they waited for Rake to take his last breath. I loved the camaraderie between the characters; I loved the brotherhood in the story. Another reviewer on Amazon said that the book hit home with him, as a former player, and I truly believe him. If I recall correctly, the reviewer was in his thirties or forties and he was viewing this novel the same way that I was. As far as I know, Friday Night Lights was about high school football as it was taking place; this story, Bleachers, is about grown men looking back on the glory of their high school years—there's a big difference.
I will confess that I love stories about men, written by men, and I feel as if I'm edging in on the secrets of boyhood that I'm not supposed to be privy to. Some of that could be that I was the little girl in my family always dying to hang out with my older brother and older male cousin and they would tell me I couldn't be a part of their hangout sessions because I'm a girl. Then there was my father and uncles who told me the same thing, but I was always intent on eavesdropping anyhow. I always loved to sneak around and listen to their male conversations, and I always felt this sort of inward elation when I was the only girl in the room with all the guys as they watched something gruesome and male oriented that I wasn't supposed to because either I was too young or I was born with a vagina. Ugh. This book made me feel that way again, although in a good way, as if I were being included in a world that I loved, but was usually off limits for me.
One of the things I adore about John Grisham's storytelling abilities is the way his sense of humor comes across in some of his tales. This is by far the funniest book I've read by him. Maybe I understand his brand of humor because I'm southern, and there are some definite laugh-out-loud moments in this novel. A lot of them had to do with the character "Rabbit", a couple of others involved Silo, and a few were just random sentences that made me chuckle involving Paul, Mal, and Neely.
Then there were the parts that made me tear-up. It wasn't just the fact that Coach was dying, or that he died, or that people in the book were mourning, it's the way the story executed those ups and downs so brilliantly, all those players' thoughts, their emotions, their stories, and their love for one another and the game. This book felt as if it were paying homage to an era that we will never have again because the world has moved on and we've all grown up. That's what the 1980s and 1990s feel like to most people around my age now. We didn't know it then, but those were our "golden" years, the same way people that were my age (in their 30s) when I was a child were looking back at the 1960s and 1970s.
It feels so weird growing up and growing older…
I will say that I liked getting the details from the 1987 championship game between the Spartans and East Pike in the way that Grisham laid it out. I really do appreciate it, because it made me appreciate that particular game (as well as the "incident") even more.
I've read this book twice and I've read a lot of the reviews for it. I'm telling you right now that a lot of people are being negative for the simple fact that they have an internet connection and Amazon allows them to express their opinion. This is one of the best books I've read in 2015 (although the book was published around 2003). People love to pick books apart in an attempt to find something wrong when there really isn't anything wrong at all, and with popular authors, it's a free for all. A lot of people out there don't like popular authors and with reviews, they have the opportunity to be negative towards them. If a book is bad and they point out the weak spots, that's one thing, but it's a shame because I notice on Amazon that some of Grisham's books have very low ratings and when I've read the reviews, it's the person harping on every detail always claiming the story was "unrealistic" or "boring" just because they're not very bright (to me, it was obvious in their review *shrug*). I'm not kidding. I've read boring books in my life, but not one of Grisham's books has ever fallen into that category and I've read quite a few of them at this point.
Do I recommend this novel? HELL YEAH!! I personally think this was his finest hour in fiction, but I haven't read a few of his older books yet, so I'll see. Is this book for you? Maybe, maybe not. But I can't speak for you; I can only speak for myself when I loved this, and it's definitely one of my favorites.
My rating system is pretty standard:
5 hearts= Great (I really adore this story; possibly one of my favorite books)
4 hearts=Good (I went out and bought it, and trust me, I'm a cheap bastard)
3 hearts=Fair (to make this one clear, I'll say: the book isn't that bad, but it's not good either)
2 hearts=Bad (Think twice before reading it, and even harder before buying)
1 heart= I finished it, but that's about it
I didn't bother to finish it…it was that bad.