Carl Deuker (1950-) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1950, in San Francisco, CA; Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A., 1972; University of Washington, M.A., 1974; University of California at Los Angeles, teaching certificate, 1976. Politics: Democrat.
Saint Luke School, Seattle, WA, teacher, 1977-90; Northshore School District, Bothell, WA, teacher, 1991—. Seattle Sun (daily newspaper), film and book critic, 1980-85.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Phi Beta Kappa.
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, 1992, for On the Devil's Court; Heart of a Champion, On the Devil's Court, and Panting the Black were all named to ALA Best Books for Young Adults list; Nebraska Golden Sower Award and Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award, 1996, Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award, 1997, and ALA Best Book for Reluctant Readers citation, all for Heart of a Champion; New York Library Books for the Teen Age citation and Young Adult Book of the Year Award from Texas, both 1997, both for Painting the Black; Nebraska Golden Sower Award, 2003, for Night Hoops.
On the Devil's Court, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.
Heart of a Champion, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Painting the Black, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Night Hoops, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
High Heat, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor of short story, "If You Can't Be Lucky," to Ultimate Sports, edited by Donald Gallo.
Carl Deuker once told SATA that he is often asked by his readers if he writes sports novels for young adults because he was an outstanding athlete. "The answer
is—not really," he confessed. "As a high school student, I made a few teams, but I did more sitting on the bench than playing. In college I played on intramural teams. But it wasn't those experiences that laid the groundwork for my becoming a writer.
"Instead I think I was on my way to becoming a writer with the imaginary games I played alone between the ages of eight and twelve. For hour after hour, the dart board in my garage was the strike zone, and I was Juan Marichal baffling the Dodgers. Or the pillow on the sofa was the basketball hoop, the walnut was the basketball, and I was Rick Barry, draining twenty-footers to beat the Lakers. I played football games with marbles, baseball games with clothespins, golf with hula hoops. But really I played those games—literally thousands of them—in my mind."
Deuker still plays games in his mind, but now he does so in the context of sports novels. His characters are high school athletes with differing abilities, ambitions, and psychological baggage, but their stories all unfold within the sports that they choose to play. Far from being just a hinge upon which to hang a plot, sports in Deuker's novels serve as a central metaphor for the complicated process of growing up. As a contributor to the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers put it, "Deuker's ability to move beyond mechanical discussions of various sports and provide insight into the universal struggles of young adults have deservedly earned him the reputation as one of the most promising contemporary writers of sports fiction."
Deuker was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. His father died when he was three years old, and to this day he is deeply conscious of the loss and deeply interested in father-son relationships. Deuker's mother encouraged her son to have an active imagination, and he began writing poetry and short stories while still in high school. In college at the University of California at Berkeley, he continued to write, placing some of his work in campus and underground magazines. "I was an English major," he told Authors and Artists for Young Adults (AAYA), "took lots of writing classes, was never the best writer in class, but persisted with writing anyway." After earning a master's degree, Deuker gravitated into journalism but finally decided to earn a teaching certificate. He has been a middle school teacher since 1977, writing his books before he goes to work in the morning and revising them at night.
Although Deuker's books are set in high school, he actually writes for the middle school audience. "My books are ways for them to peek ahead in their lives and perhaps be a little prepared for what might be coming," he said. Unlike most award-winning novelists, he thoroughly enjoys his work as a teacher and draws inspiration from it. "I have no plans to go full time [as a writer]," he admitted. "I don't think I could handle the pressure of writing for a livelihood."
In Deuker's first book, On the Devil's Court, Joe Faust, a high school student with a nearly obsessive interest in basketball, moves with his family from the East Coast to the West. Believing that the move will further his basketball career, Joe convinces his parents to let him attend a large public school with a strong sports program. However, Joe's attendance at a drunken party leads to a run-in with police, after which his parents insist that he enroll at a small private school. One evening in the gym, an angry Joe, who has just been demoted to the junior varsity, hits every shot he takes. Inspired by his recent reading of Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, Joe offers himself to the Devil in exchange for continued prowess and a perfect season. No sooner is the promise made than Joe begins to star on the varsity team, leading his school to the state finals. With each victory, Joe becomes increasingly anxious about his fate. Has he really sold himself to the Devil? In light of his success, Joe wonders if his father's untimely heart attack isn't an early payment. Not until Joe's team wins without him does he realize that the season belongs to his team, and that he has made a bargain with no one but himself.
In a School Library Journal review, Gerry Larson called On the Devil's Court a "fine addition to sports fiction," and praised Deuker's engaging mixture of suspense, family drama, and athletic competition. Publishers Weekly reviewers Kimberly Olsen Fakih and Diane Roback considered Deuker's characters well-rounded and deemed the book a "vivid contemporary morality play." Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis asserted that young readers will enjoy both the story and Joe's ability to deal squarely with his parents by the book's end, "whether or not they fully comprehend what developmental steps were taken to achieve this measure of independence."
In Heart of a Champion, Deuker uses baseball to examine the lives of two adolescent boys. Seth has yet to come to terms with his father's death when he meets Jimmy, a budding young baseball star. Inspired by Jimmy's intense pursuit of the game, Seth begins playing baseball, and the competitive nature of the game increases his confidence in other aspects of his life. Seth's grades improve, and, with his mother's help, he begins to address his father's death. Behind their shared success in baseball, however, is Jimmy's father, an alcoholic who drives his son toward perfection on the
diamond. His influence proves tragic when Jimmy, a high school baseball star, dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident. Seth must then deal with the loss of his closest friend, as well as the complexity of the father-son relationship that foreshadowed Jimmy's death.
In a review for School Library Journal, Jack Forman speculated that the "well-paced novel will involve many readers." A Horn Book reviewer called Heart of a Champion a "sensitive, moving portrait of adolescence combined with dramatic sports action." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Betsy Hearne praised the detailed relationship between the boys, but was more struck by the book's realistic portrayal of the "balance between talent and discipline."
Painting the Black once again explores the destructive behavior of a star high school athlete. Josh Daniels is a success in two sports: football and baseball. His exploits on the field are so spectacular that both fellow students and the school administration are tempted to overlook his temperamental outbursts and cruelty to female students. Recruited to serve as a catcher for Josh's pitching, Ryan Ward forms a strong friendship with the athlete and through it finds the courage to regain his own footing as a baseball player. Together the two boys craft a potential championship season for their baseball team, but their aspirations are put to the test when Ryan foils Josh's attempts to assault Monica Robey, an academic star. Ryan faces a difficult choice: Will he, too, overlook Josh's antisocial behavior, or will he report the incident and put an end to his team's championship hopes?
Deuker told AAYA that Painting the Black was based on a real incident in which a star athlete acted inappropriately toward a classmate. Critics of the book praised its realistic detailing of the "double standard" that sometimes surrounds sports heroes. Some reviewers also liked the way the story is filtered through Ryan's perspective, noting that the crux of the conflict lies in Ryan's epic battle with his own conscience. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews noted that Deuker, "adept at capturing the thrills during the game, also proves talented at dramatizing Ryan's torment…. The depiction of a boy coming into his own is resonant and inspiring." Candace Smith in Booklist suggested that Ryan's "moral courage … will linger when the reading is done."
Deuker often writes about the one-on-one bonding that young men can experience when they play sports together. In Night Hoops, Nick Abbott takes solace in basketball when his parents divorce, but he finds that his emotions spill onto the court and affect his game. It is only when Nick begins to play one-on-one with the grim and antisocial Trent Dawson that he begins to learn how to fit into a team—and how to break down the barriers between himself and others. "This is an excellent novel … authentic throughout," observed Todd Morning in School Library Journal. Morning added that Deuker "perfectly captures the swirl of ideas in the adolescent mind." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Night Hoops "an honest depiction of the contemporary high-school sports scene."
In High Heat, Shane Hunter's life is shaken at its roots when his father, facing money laundering charges, suddenly commits suicide. Shane, who has been raised in a life of luxury that includes private schools and a lovely home, must move with his family into subsidized housing, and he begins to fall apart in the new environment. Help comes in the form of his new public school's baseball coach, who convinces Shane to try out for the team. As a relief pitcher, Shane finally finds himself again, but faces a new crisis when he beans an opponent from his former school. Fearful that he has lost his pitching ability and his grip on life in general, Shane forms a friendship with the player he struck. Together they try to make sense of what has happened and how it will affect their futures.
According to John Peters in a review for Booklist, High Heat contains "enough taut sports action … to satisfy the most avid fan." Writing for School Library Journal, Morning noted that the story "delivers baseball action along with a rich psychological portrait," and a Publishers Weekly critic felt that, although the story builds on a dark premise, "the arc of redemption reminds readers that love conquers all—as does the pursuit of personal excellence."
Deuker once told AAYA that he was inspired to write sports novels by the fact that the ones he read as a boy were rarely about sports at all. "Often I'd put the book down and turn to something else, usually historical fiction with a lot of war in it. Those books delivered what they promised. As a writer of sports fiction, I decided early on to make sure I delivered on the promise—that sports be front and center. But I also wanted to make sure that each book gave a little bit more." To SATA, Deuker said: "There's a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I was alone often as a child, rarely lonely. Those imaginary games and all that time I 'wasted' playing them—in those hours I was becoming a writer."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 26, Gale Detroit, MI), 1999.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, June 1, 1997, Candace Smith, review of Painting the Black; May 1, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of Night Hoops, p. 1658; August, 2003, John Peters, review of High Heat, p. 1982.
Booktalker, September, 1989, p. 11.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Heart of a Champion, p. 7.
Horn Book, March-April, 1989, Nancy Vasilakis, review of On the Devil's Court, p. 216; May/June, 1993, review of Heart of a Champion, p. 337; May/June, 1997, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Painting the Black, p. 317; May, 2000, P. D. S., review of Night Hoops, p. 312.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1989, pp. 47-48; May 15, 1993, review of Heart of a Champion.
Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1988, Kimberly Olsen Fakih and Diane Roback, review of On the Devil's Court, p. 60; May 31, 1993, pp. 56-57; April 10, 2000, review of Night Hoops, p. 99; May 19, 2003, review of High Heat, p. 75.
School Library Journal, January, 1989, Gerry Larson, review of On the Devil's Court, p. 92; June, 1993, Jack Forman, review of Heart of a Champion, p. 126; May, 1997, Todd Morning, review of Painting the Black; May, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Night Hoops, p. 171; July, 2003, Todd Morning, review of High Heat, p. 128.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1989, Doris Losey, review of On the Devil's Court, p. 27; August, 1997, Susan Dunn, review of Painting the Black, p. 182.
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