Hazardous Choices by Joseph Rinaldo
Hazardous Choices by Joseph Rinaldo is a book that follows the lives of three intertwined characters. First is Darnell, a young college student, we meet him as he finishes up his freshman year at a small Kentucky school and heads back home to Chicago and a former gang-life he’d like to forget. We also follow his team-mate and best friend, as he deals with his own home life back in rural Kentucky. Finally, as readers we get to know the head coach and his family, including his teenage daughter and his 22 year old son. The story is told in segments through the eyes of these different personalities and lives that all meet up on the football field. The main plot centers on Darnell, as he heads home and has to function in the gang in order to stay alive. When he has to risk everything to get out of Chicago, things go very bad, both for Darnell and folks back in Kentucky.
Rinaldo has a very distinct writing style. It’s conversational and extremely descriptive and sometimes reads like a memoir. I easily connected with each one of the characters and the individual story lines. That said, this book is very different than a typical sports-centered fiction book. There is a lot of football talk, which in all honesty drug it down for me. I’m not familiar with nor am I interested in the fine points of the sport, and I think I would have gotten just as much out of this book without all of the football education. I was tempted to put it down at times because I couldn’t stay on track during those segments of the book. However, the rest of the story kept me engaged and needing to find out how it all ended. I was very intrigued by the story of the coach’s family. I can definitely see where Rinaldo used his own life experiences to draw the reader in to the plot line with coach and his family dynamics. You can’t help but fall in love with his son who has Down Syndrome and learns to overcome some communication barriers.
Darnell and his plight is one that is common, or at least perceived as common to those outside the rough neighborhoods of large cities. He is drawn into gang life because he has no choice and football offers him a way out. My heart ached for Darnell and for kids who have to experience this type of life because they have no alternative. You can easily see why he wants to get back to Kentucky and the small town ‘normal’ life.
Overall I enjoyed the read. There are times when I feel it is plodding along, and there is some repetition due to cross over of characters and how the book is set up. But, at the end of the book, I felt like I’d gained something worthwhile in my time. I’ve thought a lot about this book and about the topics that Rinaldo covers. For me, I like books that leave me chewing on the subjects over days or even weeks. I found that satisfaction in Hazardous Choices.