The Obstacle Course

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Roy Poole has to be smart because he is almost always on his own. His father is a drinker, womanizer, and wife-beater. His mother can’t cope with her husband or her children; Roy copes by running with his own gang, whose escapades sometimes border on the criminal. And this young man is eminently available when the girls come after him, which is often. But there is another side to Roy. He builds model ships and regularly hitchhikes to Annapolis to run the Naval Academy’s grueling obstacle course. For Roy Poole’s one ambition in life, his consuming dream, is to become a midshipman. One day, like a gift from heaven, Roy meets a retired admiral who also builds model ships. The admiral is immediately attracted to the youngster, and he becomes almost a second father to the boy. Admiral Wells arranges for Roy to be admitted to a military prep school that sends most of its graduates to the Naval Academy. And then, suddenly, Roy’s innocence brings about an explosion in this exotic world he has entered. Embittered and lost, Roy strikes out blindly for parts unknown. And on that adventure, particularly in an encounter with members of a black church, people that he, a Southerner in the fifties, has never known except as stereotypes, he begins the process of understanding that offers him a chance for his own redemption. This powerful and gritty coming-of-age novel will evoke memories of Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn. It also bears comparison to the novels of Pat Conroy. Best of all, The Obstacle Course confirms Freedman’s talent for telling a compelling story in a full and rich original voice that marks him as a novelist with a limitless future.


“Like real life, The Obstacle Course is both heartbreaking and oddly helpful. I liked Ray Poole. His story is poignant, honest, and thoroughly memorable.” – Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard of Carolina

“Here is a great story, one you don’t want to turn loose of, one that won’t turn loose of you. This is the real stuff written by a sure and steady had. Mr. Freedman just keeps getting better and better:” – Larry Brown, author of Joe

“Set in southern Maryland during the first three months of 1957, this excellent novel by the author of Against the Wind is a first-person narrative by 14-year-old Roy Poole, who runs the obstacle course at nearby Annapolis and hopes to become a midshipman. But his father is an alcoholic, his mother a non-presence in the household and his grades are low—deliberately so, because kids with good grades are ostracized in Roy’s peer-pressured world. A chance meeting with a retired admiral gives Roy the opportunity to realize his dream of attending Annapolis, but neither his peers nor his elders believe that he can rise above their preconceptions about him. Not looking forward to an existence like that of his family and friends, keenly aware of how out of place he is in any better life, Roy is an authentic adolescent: confused, eager, honest and alive. Freedman nails the teenage state of mind, for which being humiliated in math class or laughed at by friends is nothing less than the end of the world, and tells a wonderfully truthful tale about youthful choice and change, examining how each is controlled by adults. Readers can’t help but care for the appealing main character, root for him and wonder what kind of an adult he will be. Literary Guild selection.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“In 1957, 14-year-old Roy Poole dreams of escaping his grimy small-town life by attending the Naval Academy, where he runs the obstacle course when he is not hustling homework, trading insults with buddies, shoplifting, or robbing washing-machine coin boxes. A chance meeting with a retired admiral gives Roy a patron, but his hope for the future is endangered when he is accused of the one theft he didn’t commit. Both a survivor and his own worst enemy, Roy careens from mishap to catastrophe: a quick escape from a junkyard guard results in six days as a runaway; a last-minute assault on coin boxes for some ready cash undoes his final opportunity with the admiral. Freedman’s second novel doesn’t live up to Against the Wind ( LJ 9/15/91), but its selection by the Literary Guild, an author tour, and a hefty ad budget may boost demand.— Jan Blodgett, St. Mary’s Cty. Records Ctr. & Archives, Leonardtown, Md”
Library Journal