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Reviewed by Ellen Odza for Readers' Favorite
The Cortlandt Boys by Laura Vanderkam is set in a small town in Pennsylvania. In 1994, the boys’ basketball team, the Cortlandt Cavaliers, wins the state championship thanks to a last-second three-point shot. The focus of the book is the effect of this win on the members of the team and on others in the town. Vanderkam has divided the book into three sections, each of which is set in a different time period. The first section is set in 1994 and describes the championship game and how Max, a member of the school band, is injured during the post-win excitement. Section two follows Max, now a well-known sports journalist, as she returns to Cortland in 2004, ten years after the championship game, to do a sort of “where are they now” feature on the team for Sports magazine. What she finds upon her return to Cortlandt will impact the entire town. Section three takes place ten years after that, in 2013-2014, and focuses on Janie, the 17-year-old daughter of one of the original team members. Max has become a mentor to Jamie, who is creating a scrapbook about the 20th anniversary of the championship.
What I found most interesting about The Cortlandt Boys was how that one championship became the defining moment for the boys on the team. When Max comes to the town to write her story in 2004, she discovers that the boys all stayed in Cortlandt, getting together on a weekly basis to watch videos of their old games, never able to move forward. As one of the team members says, “I don’t worry about doing something with my life because I’ve done something.” I was reminded of the Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days.” Overall, I enjoyed this book. While basketball is obviously at the core of the book, there is a strong element of mystery, and some romance as well. Max in particular is a very strong and clearly-defined character. Jamie I found less interesting than Max, but that is just my personal preference. Laura Vanderkam has produced a very well-written book with some truly memorable lines that I think will resonate with the reader long after the book has been put down.