How is this book not a movie yet? This is the question I asked myself over and over again as I read More Than Rivals by Ken Abraham. This is the story of two star high school basketball players, one white and one black, living in Gallatin, Tennessee. Gallatin was one of the last towns to desegregate their schools, and this process was fraught with tension. The rivalry that develops between two schools that are set to merge, Gallatin High and Union High School, centers around the two star players. These players, who were childhood friends, are suddenly shouldered with “representing” the dignity of their respective races, and a championship basketball game suddenly becomes much more than just a game.
The beauty of this book is in its characterization. There are elements of a coming-of-age tale, and the importance of the faith of both boys is emphasized. It is obvious that Abraham did his research into the town of Gallatin, which really becomes a character in the story more than a setting. The underlying racism of the townsfolk is contrasted with their Southern geniality—these are people who would rather things stay as idyllic as they believe them to be. There are hints of ugliness that Abraham prefers to let emerge through conversation and implication. Beneath the surface isn’t just racism, but classism, trauma from the Vietnam War, sexual tension, dark ambition, poverty, divorce, anger, abuse, and violence.
Every once in a while, Abraham zooms out to give us the big picture, commenting on the civil rights movement or the efforts of desegregation—even giving us a glimpse of chilling school board meeting. But these glimpses only serve to show the reader how cloistered Gallatin has remained, by the choice of its townsfolk. The coming collision is inevitable, the loss of innocence both necessary and painful.
This is an inspiring story because it demonstrates to the reader how confused we humans can be and how important character has been and will be in addressing our darkest problems. For the most part, Abraham doesn’t vilify the racists of Gallatin, because the racists are us. We would love to escape to a small town and pretend that the greater problems of the world don’t exist—but the problems of the world exist in us.
I highly recommend this book. However, there are two things that bothered me about it. First of all, the n-word is used multiple times, and the audiobook version has these bleeped out. I’m not sure why this was done, since Abraham obviously wanted this in the book to reflection of the underlying racism of the community. Also, the final chapter has a maudlin feel that left me feeling let down after the powerful conclusion that precedes it.
Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street!) does an outstanding job on the narration of the audiobook version. He affects different voices for the different characters, and an effect is used on his voice whenever he is mimicking a radio broadcast. This was a very fun book to listen to. Here’s hoping a movie is coming soon.
Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work. More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.