There’s bad news and good news about the Cutter High School swim team. The bad news is that they don’t have a pool. The good news is that only one of them can swim anyway. A group of misfits brought together by T. J. Jones (the J is redundant), the Cutter All Night Mermen struggle to find their places in a school that has no place for them. T.J. is convinced that a varsity letter jacket–exclusive, revered, the symbol (as far as T.J. is concerned) of all that is screwed up at Cutter High–will also be an effective tool. He’s right. He’s also wrong. Still, it’s always the quest that counts. And the bus on which the Mermen travel to swim meets soon becomes the space where they gradually allow themselves to talk, to fit, to grow. Together they’ll fight for dignity in a world where tragedy and comedy dance side by side, where a moment’s inattention can bring lifelong heartache, and where true acceptance is the only prescription for what ails us.
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T. J. Jones is black, Japanese, and white; his given name is The Tao (honest!), and he's the son of a woman who abandoned him when she got heavily into crack and crank. As a child he was full of rage, but now as a senior in high school he's pretty much overcome all that. With the help of a good therapist and his decent, loving, ex-hippie adoptive parents, he's not only fairly even-keeled, he has turned out to be smart and funny.
Injustice, however, still fills him with fury. So when big-deal football star Mike Barbour bullies brain-damaged Chris Coughlin for wearing his dead brother's letter jacket, T.J. hatches a scheme for revenge. He assembles a swim team (in a school with no pool) made up of the most outrageous outsiders and misfits he can find and extracts a conditional promise of those sacred letter jackets from the coach. After weeks of dedicated practice at the All Night Fitness pool, the seven mermen get good enough not to embarrass themselves in competition. The really important thing, though, turns out to be the long bus rides to meets, a safe place to share the hurts that have made them who they are. Meanwhile, T.J.'s father, who has taken in a battered little girl to ease his lifelong guilt over his role in the accidental death of a baby, tangles with another bully--her stepfather--and his growing murderous rage.
Chris Crutcher, therapist and author of seven prize-winning young adult books, here gives his many fans another wise and compassionate story full of the intensity of athletic competition and hair-raising incidents of child abuse. (Ages 12 and older) --Patty CampbellFrom the Back Cover:
“Crutcher’s gripping tale of small-town prejudice delivers a frank, powerful message about social issues and ills.”
-- Publishers Weekly, Starred
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