Title: Broken Field by Jeff Hull
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 360 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Told from the perspective of a high school girl and a football coach, Broken Field reveals the tensions that tear at the fabric of a small town when a high school hazing incident escalates and threatens a championship season.
Set on the high prairies of Montana, in small towns scattered across vast landscapes, the distances in Broken Field are both insurmountable and deeply internalized. Life is dusty and hard, and men are judged by their labor. Women have to be tougher yet. That’s what sixteen-year-old Josie Frehse learns as she struggles to meet the expectations of her community while fumbling with her own desires.
Tom Warner coaches the Dumont Wolfpack, an eight-man football team, typical for such small towns. Warner is stumbling through life, numbed by the death of his own young son and the dissolution of his marriage. But he’s jolted into taking sides when his star players are accused of a hazing incident that happened right under his nose.
The scandal divides and ignites the town and in Broken Field, Jeff Hull brilliantly gives breadth and depth to both sides of this fractured community, where the roots of bullying reach deep, secrets are buried, and, in a school obsessed with winning, everyone loses.
Broken Field by Jeff Hull is an interesting portrait of a small rural town’s reaction to a hazing incident perpetrated by their football team which is on the brink of a championship season.
On their way home from an away game, football coach Tom Warner breaks protocol when he allows his assistant coach to ride home with his new bride instead of on the team bus. Tom is the only adult supervising the team and not only is he distracted by a personal issue, he also drifts off the sleep. During a brief stop at a convenience store, Tom steps off the bus to keep an eye on the teenagers as they go into the store. As they prepare to leave, two cheerleaders exit the bus and the rest of their journey home is uneventful. The next day, a concerned parent contacts Tom about some disturbing photos she finds on the school’s yearbook camera. The subsequent investigation reveals football players Matt Brunner, Waylon Edwards and Alex Martin were the instigators in the hazing of their teammate. Tom and the school principal investigate the incident but when the media finds out about what happened, the school board and town are divided about what, if any, punishment should be handed down.
Sixteen year old Josie Frehse is Matt’s girlfriend and even before the hazing incident, she has been considering the future of their two year relationship. She has learned to manage his somewhat moody behavior but her friendship with new student, Mikie LaValle, is quickly becoming an issue. Josie is well-liked by her peers and she is friendly with everyone regardless of where they fall in school’s hierarchy. She is intrigued by Mikie but Matt has taken an instant dislike to him and he frequently bullies the newcomer. As the hazing situation comes to a head, Josie is stunned by Matt’s volatile reaction toward her but even more shocking is her mother’s attitude about what has happened.
Although a little slow-paced, Broken Field is an engrossing novel which offers a compelling view of the dynamics of a close-knit, rural community. The characters are richly developed with relatable shortcomings and endearing virtues. The novel has a well-developed storyline in which Jeff Hull realistically explores sensitive topics such as bullying, racism and violence against women. I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend this thought-provoking novel.