A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors


Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all commercially published fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.

The books reviewed in this series are available through Wilmington's Pettee Memorial Library, the Whitingham Free Public Library, and locally owned Bartleby's Books in Wilmington.

Deerfield Valley News, 11/23/2022

A Sports Story for Young (and old) Adults

Stephen L. Harris, No Excuses. Rootstock Publishing, 2022

This 1980s sports story has two unlikely heroes. The first is 16-year-old Skeets Stearns, a farm boy who has grown up in the Northeast Kingdom and found his greatest pleasure on Catamount Ridge, the mountain behind his house. The other is Bill MacColl, who lost the use of one arm and partial use of a leg when his plane was shot down in the Vietnam War, thus ending his dreams of contending as a decathlete in the Olympics. MacColl has come to the Stearns family farm at the suggestion of Skeets’s Uncle Jacques, MacColl’s friend from their Navy days. MacColl knows, as Skeets does not, that he has come to Vermont to put his life back together by living in the country for a while and overcoming his fear of being in the woods. 

At first, not understanding MacColl’s problems, Skeets resents giving up his bedroom to the family’s guest, and is puzzled by MacColl’s incessant pacing at night and his fear on the trails of Catamount Ridge. Skeets is also defensive when MacColl tries to talk to him about sports, because at five feet six he is, according to high school standards, “too small” to be an athlete. Gradually, however, the two become more friendly, and MacColl, noting the ease with which Skeets jumps over logs and brooks on Catamount Ridge and seeing how fast he runs, encourages Skeets to go out for Track and Field and become a decathlete (one who competes in all ten Track and Field competitions). With MacColl coaching him, Skeets does so well in high school competitions that he, along with several other boys, qualifies for the Eastern States High School Track and Field Championships, in New York.

The Championships take up the last third of the book. During the competitions, Skeets earns the admiration of his one-time nemesis, Emile; he also makes friends with Robinson James, a black decathlete from Philadelphia who is as huge as Skeets is small. Competing with the three friends is the son of MacColl’s one-time arch rival, the two-time silver Olympic medalist Bobby Ray Barnes—who, we learn from several sources, got to be an Olympic decathlete primarily because MacColl joined the Navy instead of draft-dodging. Bobby Ray junior is beautifully trained and effortlessly good, but snobby and not above trading on his famous father’s reputation. The book’s title, a mantra repeated many times during MacColl’s recovery and Skeets’s training, is especially apt here, because on the second day of the Championships, it pours. After trying to get his father to cancel the Championships, Bobby Ray unwillingly competes, but makes one excuse after another as his first-place status is challenged by Skeets and Robinson. Skeets, happy with his own performances, is puzzled by MacColl’s expressed hope that he defeat Bobby Ray—and MacColl, seeing that, is reminded that winning isn’t everything, and that sports are more important than revenge. 

This is a fine, fast-moving book, filled with Track and Field lore, good sportsmanship, and believable characters.

This is a fine, fast-moving book, filled with Track and Field lore, good sportsmanship, and believable characters.