Title: Payback Time
Author: Carl Deuker
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Concepts: incentives, ethics, career advancement, economics of education
Review: As the sports reporter for his high school newspaper, Mitch True had received strict marching orders from the football coach: every story he wrote about the football team would focus on the star quarterback. Coach said it was Mitch’s job to get the QB plenty of publicity to improve his chances of getting a scholarship at a big name Division I school.
Not only did these instructions violate his integrity as a reporter, Mitch also sensed something suspicious about Coach’s motivations when he noticed a new player on the team, Angel Marichal, with undeniable raw talent, speed, and agility. Angel seemed older than the other players and he refused an interview, while Coach hid Angel on the bench and only put him in games when the team got to the brink of losing.
Together with photographer Kimi Yon, Mitch developed a theory. Coach wanted to win the state championship so he could return to coaching at the collegiate level. Coach would even cheat to get there, relying on an older player who had already used up his eligibility elsewhere. Not wanting opposing coaches to ask questions, Coach saved Angel for crunch times and otherwise kept him hidden from the public eye. In their quest to prove this theory, Mitch and Kimi encountered hidden truths and dangers powerful enough to challenge their own idea of what it meant to report the news.
This suspenseful sports novel has plenty of action on and off the field to keep the pages turning until the very end. Underlying much of the story line is an important economics lesson about the role of incentives, be they college scholarships or career advancement, in motivating people’s actions. With a plot focused on investigative reporting, this novel should appeal to a broad readership beyond sports novel fans.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children