The Amazing Audiobooks blogging team is here with the first wave of nominations for Amazing Audiobooks! There’s something here: nonfiction, contemporary realistic fiction, and science fiction.
Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Mark Bramhall
Audio published by: Listening Library
Publication Date: January 2017
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team is an incredible book that focuses on the secondary school football career of early sports star Jim Thorpe and his teammates at the Carlisle Indian School. The book discusses the rise of the football team under the direction of legendary football coach Pop Warner and budding celebrity athlete Jim Thorpe.
I know very little about the history of football (or the sport in general), but when I talked about this book to a few sports fans, they immediately knew the names of Pop Warner and Jim Thorpe, even if they didn’t know the full story. In this book, Sheinkin divulges an integral piece of sports and American history that is known by too few, and he does it in a way that is manageable and entertaining for both youth and adults. The book covers not only the history of football as a sport, but also the very negative interactions between the Carlisle Indian School and other colleges and universities at the time (particularly the Ivy Leagues). While he specifies that it is not the focus of the book, Sheinkin also discusses the terrible reality of the history between the US government, even the wider US population in general, and the Native American communities still in existence at the turn of the 20th Century.
Rather than read this book, I listened to Mark Bramhall’s audiobook narration of it. While listening, I often found myself imagining that I was a young child again, enjoying a bedtime story told to me by a grandfatherly-figure whose storytelling abilities abound. I do not doubt that the book stands on its own, in any case. However, listening to Bramhall’s reading felt as though I was watching a documentary: the measured pacing and calm dictation of the book’s content created a tone that painted a vivid picture of the characters and situations at the Carlisle School that feels both fun and scholarly at the same time.
Sheinkin discusses the person that was Jim Thorpe in a way that one might discuss a mythological figure: mischievous (but not malicious), rowdy, but beyond the physical reach of anyone else in the sport. Sheinkin also writes about Thorpe as though both his athletic prowess and his general spirit were indomitable. While this isn’t the first book written about Thorpe, Undefeated offers a story about an underdog whose combined natural talent, spirit, and determination helped him succeed in the face of never-ending adversity.
Though there are few overly dramatic moments in the book, there are a number of high intensity plot twists that keep the listener invested in the story. When the narrative starts to lull, Sheinkin does a fantastic job of jolting the reader with a tense and pressured event, like a major competition, a devastating loss, a thrilling win, or an explosive scandal. Bramhall keeps up with these ebbs and flows and does an excellent job of expressing the decreased or intensified emotion through his dictation.
Readers interested in reading other books about Jim Thorpe should try Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac. If you’re a fan of football-based fiction, you should try Abbi Glines’s Field Party Collection, Paul Volponi’s Crossing Lines. If you like to read historical biographies about sports stars, you should check out Unbroken (Young Readers Edition) by Laura Hillenbrand or The Greatest: Muhammed Ali by Walter Dean Myers.
— Katrina Ortega