Cover Image: Strong Like You

Strong Like You

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Member Reviews

This one is built on a solid premise - hunting for a missing parent uncovering secrets and truths. It reveals things about the character and their relationships, the kind of person they are versus the kind of person they want to be. It isn't the best representation of this sort of plot that I've read and it's a rough read at time but it's interesting enough for a one-off read.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this book. This book was quite good but it was choppy and a bit repetitive but Since it is a debut, I understand. The topic was good though.

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I was truly impressed with this book! It was so inspirational and motivating. We need more books like this!

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★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
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WHAT'S STRONG LIKE YOU ABOUT?
Walker Lauderdale is a high school sophomore and a starter for his small Arkansas high school's football team. He and his cousin/best friend/might as well be brother Sawyer are fierce players for the defense (and we see that almost instantly). This should be the best time in his young life—but there's something wrong.

His dad has been missing for a month. He's not there to watch his first game. He's not there to burst with pride, to offer advice, or to cheer from the stands. He's just...gone. Walker's dad and Sawyer's dad (also best friends and teammates on the same high school team before marrying sisters) took off one night and haven't returned. The two boys are certain they'll be back any time—they're frequently checking the bleachers to see their fathers up there.

The book is an extended monologue—or a series of them. Technically, an apostrophe, but let's stick with monologue. Walker is addressing his father—catching him up on the turmoil and victories he's missing, the hurt Walker feels because of his absence, and how he's trying to make things work until his dad comes back. The grief, loss, and anger jump off the page.

Walker's dad isn't a great one, either, it should be stressed. Rarely employed, his income is largely illegal and irregular. Both missing fathers are abusive to their wives and sons. But in the way that we all can recognize, the boys are just that much more devoted to them because of it—making their dads proud is a chief aim of theirs.

Walker becomes determined to go look for his dad—which involves starting with the man his dad and uncle were last seen with—a truly frightening and violent man. Sawyer tries to dissuade him, but that just makes Walker even more certain that he needs to act.

But does he truly want to find the answers he's seeking?

LEARNING ABOUT GUNS
Walker—like so many people in the U.S.—appreciates guns. He's quick to grab a pellet gun to (try to) chase away his uncle. But his cousin Sawyer? Sawyer is a nut for guns, he has magazines about them all over his room. At some point, Sawyer comes across a pistol (and somehow gets money for many bullets for it—or at least acquires them). There's a big difference between a pellet gun and a Colt 1911, and it doesn't take long for Walker to start learning about them.

Not what you learn in video games/TV, not what Sawyer's survival mags teach, or anything like that. But about the reality of them—how they can invite violence, how holding one affects you, what destruction they can bring even without trying. There's no pro-/anti- gun message at work here. No lessons or sermons were delivered. But the reality of what a gun can do to a person, a situation, or an attitude is presented in stark reality. I'd say it's easily one of the best things about this book, but if I started listing the best things about this book, we'd be here for a long time.

ANGER
Walker and Sawyer are angry young men—it's simmering right below the surface, and comes out at inopportune times. Although, it does sometimes come out when it should*—and we see an example of that in the opening minutes of their first game of the year.

* Arguably, anyway. Their coach and teammates would say it's appropriate.

There are plenty of reasons for them to be so angry—even before their fathers abandoned them. The more time you spend with them—Walker in particular—you see just how many reasons he has. It's part of what his parents have passed down to him, part of the example they've set and the environment he's been raised in.

The guy his father and uncle runs with, Lukas Fisher, has another kind of anger inside him—and he doesn't hesitate to express it—where Walker's parents shape him by their anger, Lukas "trains" his pit bull with his.* While we can see a little constructive use of anger, we can see some people who are angry due to circumstance and situations—but Lukas? He seems to revel in it, maybe even feeds on anger.

* This is off-point, but Simpson's description of the dog's barking was both wonderfully accurate and a bit of a tension breaker.

But back to Walker, it's his anger that lands him in weekly sessions with the school counselor before the book begins. This counselor is one of the few who seem to look beyond Walker's attitude, his anger, his disinterest in education, and his abilities on the football field. It's unclear how Walker will respond to him—or even if he can respond to this man appropriately. But it's a rare example of how his anger just might put him in the right place.

THE MEANING OF MANHOOD/STRENGTH
Walker's primary concern at the beginning of the book is to be strong—strong, as the title says, like his dad. For him, strength equals control. Control over your life, your circumstances, your choices—it's also tied into how to fix things. How to make things better.

Yes, it absolutely is about physical strength first and foremost, but it's about more than that, too. For a character presented as not that intelligent (Walker would say worse than that about himself), he's really perceptive. He's spent more time than many—probably even he—realizes thinking about the nature of strength.

Ultimately, this is what being a man is for Walker (and Sawyer, too)—maybe even Hank and Rufus, too. Walker sees Hank as strong—physically, emotionally, and mentally. This is what he aspires to—for himself, for his mother, and possibly even for Hank. If Walker gets to be strong enough—on and off the football field—he can make Hank and his mom proud. He can make their lives better, fixing those things that need fixing (that his father never gets around to fixing, despite Walker's deep-seated conviction that he could and will).

Over the course of this book, this understanding of what manhood means and what strength means are seen in light of that anger mentioned above. One of the bigger questions of the novel surrounds Walker and Sawyer—as they navigate toward adulthood/maturity, what will win out? Strength or anger? What kind of men will they be?

THE LOVE STORY
Okay...after a few attempts, I realize that I cannot say anything about this without a spoiler. All I will say is that it's perfectly conceived, perfectly executed, and just what this book needed it to be.

SO, WHAT DID I THINK ABOUT STRONG LIKE YOU?
I have several more things I wanted to talk about—but this is too long, and almost two days behind schedule (it's at least 6 hours after I normally post something). What's worse, every time I start writing "just one more thing," I think of two more. So I'm bringing this in for a landing, and I may bounce around a little bit here.

I do not even like football—why do I keep reading books featuring it? Okay, I live in the USA and it's pretty hard to escape, that's a large part of it, but still... There's a large part of me that doesn't care as long as it's a book like this one. And sure, he's talking about a different game entirely, but Walker would agree with Dani Rojas—"Football is life!" He thinks in football terms and metaphors, he can't explain to someone why he loves football—he can't even understand why that person doesn't like football, it's like telling him that they don't like to breathe. Most of the time, Simpson doesn't have Walker or Sawyer tell us this, they just live this. The way he does this alone tells me that Simpson is someone to watch (or, I suppose, he thinks the same way as Walker does and it's coming out organically—but I don't think so)

I really should spend a lot of time talking about Walker's guidance counselor and the arc of their relationship, there's so much about Simpson's work here that should be commended. There's also this strange little tangent featuring a recent graduate of Walker's high school and his little sisters that tells us more about Walker than anything except his attitude toward football—who he really is, not who he thinks he needs to be.

You don't have to read very far before you know a couple of things—1. despite his conviction—or at least the conviction he voices—things are not going to go the way he anticipates, and that rough times are ahead for Walker; and 2. you are not going to want to put this book down until you reach the last page. I glanced at the first couple of pages to make sure it downloaded correctly and had to walk away from my Kindle, because I had multiple other deadlines and I knew if I didn't do that, I'd finish the book before I did anything else. I can't describe it, but there's something about Walker's voice, the way he's talking to that father that isn't there that just grabs you.

I'm not entirely satisfied with the way the novel ended. I liked the resolution to the various stories, let me be clear. But I feel like I could see Simpson's not-so-Invisible Hand working to get some of the resolutions to work out the way they did. I like the way the storylines ended up, so I'm not going to complain too much. And since it was only in the closing pages that I thought about maybe criticizing something in the book, Simpson earned a little authorial heavy-handedness.

This is a real winner—Strong Like You shares so much DNA with Eli Cranor's Don't Know Tough (but is not a copy in any way) and even hearkens back to Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker. And anytime a book can make me compare it favorably with those two knockouts, I'm going to put it down as pure joy.

If you're someone who gets hung up on the YA tag, push "Pause" on that for 224 pages. This is a book that deserves a fair shake and many, many readers—Simpson's debut is as strong as Walker hopes to be.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from North Star Editions via NetGalley—thanks to both for this.

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I really liked how the author wrote this book as a boy, Walker, has imaginary conversations with his missing father, This style allows readers to understand the heartbreak, desperation and hope of a boy missing his father even though when he is home he is often drunk and abusive. Walker is hopeful that his father will come home and be the father he wants and needs. Instead, Walker discovers his dad out his is dead as part of a murder suicide. Now Walker sets out to find out the truth even though no one wants to believe him.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Strong Like You by T.L. Simpson

This book basically reads like a thought letter to a missing father. Walker’s dad Hank is missing. Along with his uncle, Rufus, Sawyer’s dad. Walker and Sawyer are best friends, just like Hank and Rufus. Walker struggles to handle the fact that his father is missing.

At first this book was hard for me to read because Walker would be talking about what’s going on and then all of a sudden, right in the middle, he would start addressing his thoughts to his dad in second person. I finally got the hang of the layout of the book. It’s unfortunate that Hank wasn’t a great guy, and Walker idolizes this man. But as we continue through the story and gain more insight into Walker’s thoughts, we notice that he does struggle with his father’s definition of a “strong man” and what real men are and are not supposed to be or do. Luckily his coach takes a deep interest in him and his life and he begins to see what being a real man really means.

Because of a poor decision on the first day of school, Walker has to spend time with his counselor. He is encouraged to write his thoughts down. Every now and then we get to “see” what he writes and I think the way in which this is done makes it much more meaningful. Same for his English class bell ringers. Unique.

It took a while for this book to pick up. The first half was a bit slow and redundant. Then he starts to find out the mystery surrounding his father and learn what being strong really means and the story gets a whole lot better.

This is a pretty strong book that would probably be of interest to teen boys.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

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A captivating coming-of-age novel that seamlessly weaves together themes of family, resilience, and the unbreakable bond between a father and son. From the very first page, readers are drawn into the world of Walker Lauderdale, a determined fifteen-year-old who refuses to accept the presumed loss of his father.

The story unfolds in the picturesque backdrop of the Ozarks, where Walker embarks on a heart-wrenching journey to find his missing father. The author skillfully portrays the challenges that Walker faces, not just in the rugged terrain of the Ozarks but also in the complexities of his own life. As a star player on the football team and a regular teenager trying to navigate adolescence, Walker's character is both relatable and deeply authentic.

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Simpson's debut is well crafted. I really enjoyed this read, the complex characters and how I felt after finishing it. This is a great read to add to your list.

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This book was so very good and I can’t say enough. As an Arkansas resident I can attest to the vibe, the environment, the feel, and the authenticity of the voice. More than anything I love stumbling across a title that is so needed and STRONG LIKE YOU is one of those books. In the first weeks of the new year I am already filing this under one of my favorite reads of 2024.

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Walker's father has disappeared and though everyone thinks his dad is dead, Walker doesn't believe it. His family lives in a little town in the Ozarks, and dad has not done a good job providing for his family,--Walker is always hungry--, but Walker remembers the good times, and is sure his dad would be there to support him as he plays football. When dad doesn't show, Walker decides to find him. When Walker's football coach steps in to help his mom Walker is resentful, but he eventually accepts that dad is dead and life can be better for him. Positive endings and the story raises awareness of the difficulties some children are forced to live with. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc and no pressure for a positive review.

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This is one of the most profound novels I've read in a long time. Powerful prose, heart-wrenching pacing, pulse-pounding drama. This was everything I could have wanted from a modern novel about the harsh realities of toxic masculinity and the seemingly inescapable cycles of violence.

When fifteen-year-old Walker's father goes missing, most people--police, teachers, the community at large--have written him off. It's a problem that's solved itself. But Walker is determined to prove that he's alive, that he's not just some lowlife, that he hasn't left his family destitute and behind, and makes it a personal mission to find him. Told in a second-person narration, with Walker talking to his missing father, Walker risks life and limb to do what most people won't all while exploring what it means to be a man, how it feels to find first love, and what it takes to be strong.

Truly, don't miss this one.

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Walker, a teen growing up in the Ozarks, is the main character looking for his father who goes missing. The story is told from the Walker’s point of view to his father. This got a little annoying after a while but I understand that it was about of the journey. The story was a tad bit slow, but it does have an unexpected plot twist that was worth hanging on for.

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Strong Like You is an absolute emotional gut punch of a debut. The voice is so strong, the message so elegantly delivered, and Walker (the MC) and the supporting cast of characters so excellently portrayed. This is a beautiful story that has something to say to all young readers, male and female alike, about what it really means to be strong and the importance of walking that path, no matter how difficult it may be.

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for offering an ARC in return of an honest review. And I can say without a doubt, I will be recommending this story to everyone.

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I adored this book. The premise is simple: Walker, an angry teen boy who's written off by his teachers as stupid and only good at football, searches for his missing father. With its use of the second person, immersion in an impoverished Arkansas household, and inclusion of Walker's notes and poetry, the execution is excellent. I especially appreciated Walker's voice and his unfiltered anger. The themes regarding generational trauma and inherited patterns reminded me a lot of Heavy by Kiese Laymon, one of my favorite books.

"Maybe that's the problem with all Ozarks boys. We all learn how to be Ozarks boys from the Ozark boys ahead of us, only somewhere along the line, everything got messed up."

I don't know anything about football and was never lost and could easily glean what was happening, so don't let the football be a deterrent from a story that's really about family and what male "strength" really means. But if you are here for the football, there is plenty of that too.

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“You used to say it is what it is. And I used to believe that. But I think something else now. It is what you make it. You learn better than you were taught. Or you don’t. There is nothing else.”

Off the bat, I want to say that it takes a lot to pull my focus into a contemporary book. As a die-hard spec fic fan, I usually need some sort of explosion or ghost or elaborate world to get me hooked. But from my first glance at STRONG LIKE YOU, I knew I’d be yanked in. The unique voice, setting, and characters caught me, and Simpson’s honesty kept me.

STRONG LIKE YOU refuses to sugar-coat, which is refreshing for the reluctant reader genre that’s often ‘toned down’, as if these readers can’t hear the condescension. In stark contrast, STRONG LIKE YOU doesn't lie or skirt reality. It’s honest in its depictions of poverty, of substance use, of painful families, and even of the uncomfortable realities of being in high school. Still, I refuse to call STRONG LIKE YOU ‘brutally honest’; the plot is straight-forward in the best way, avoiding unnecessary shock value or glorification that would only cheapen its truth. Like Walker learns, a brutal environment doesn’t have to lead to a brutal story. Against the intrigue of Walker’s missing father, STRONG LIKE YOU also manages to slowly present so many examples of not just strength, but of masculinity beyond toxicity. There are no saviours, and no perfect people, and frankly not even any purely evil antagonists. Everyone has a story and a motive. STRONG LIKE YOU embraces those confusing nuances we learn as teenagers without over-hammering the point.

STRONG LIKE YOU would have done a number on me if I read it in high school. I’m so happy to know that this book exists for the angry boys who can’t see a way out, and who are tired of being talked down to about their own lives. Simpson never forgets who he's writing for.

Thanks to Flux and NetGalley for letting me read!

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Strong Like You is about Walker’s admiration for his father and he narrates this story as he tries to find his missing father. The description implies this read is also a mystery and a sports book, but the focus is predominantly on Walker’s grief without his father despite what the rest of the community has to say. Teens will relate to the poverty and the hopelessness, but the story itself is slow, with some unseen twists where everything wraps up too perfectly. My favorite part is the use of the handwritten bellwork assignments interwoven throughout the novel to express Walker’s true feelings.

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This story was really good. it touched based on men masculinity both good and toxic masculinity. It’s based on the main character Walker finding answers as to why his father would just disappear and leave him and his mother behind.Walker is in High School and on the football team so he is dealing with a lot while finding answers to his fathers disappearance.

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Wow, I couldn’t wait to see how this suspenseful book was going to end. Walker’s dad is missing, and it’s Walker’s first football game. Sawyer’s dad is missing as well and when they both realize the dads aren’t at the game Walker wants to find their dads. Walker is told don’t ask Lukas about your dad and of course Walker has to find Lukas to see what he knows. When he finds Lukas it sets a course of danger, anger, and uncertainty. Walker’s dad’s truck is found but no bodies. Lukas’ girlfriend finds Walker and gives him an address and says she’s leaving the area. What does Walker find at the address? Quite the unexpected ending.

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This is such a powerful book! It is centered on Walker, and his cousin Sawyer, whose flawed, but still loved fathers have both disappeared. Their determination to find out what happened to them, leads these two teenage boys on an investigation fraught with danger. But this book is so much more than the mystery surrounding the disappearances. It is a stark tale of the realities of the world in which Walker and Sawyer live, with its crushing poverty, constant hunger, bullying and abuse. Their only bright spot is playing high school football. T.L. Simpson has written a poignant, at times heartbreaking story of the world many young people face, with just a glimmer of hope and redemption. The character of Walker is one I will long remember. This is a totally immersive book that I found hard to put down! Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for my advance copy. The opinions of this review are my own.

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Thank you to netgalley and North Star Editions, Flux for allowing me to read Strong Like You by T. L. Simpson. This story was so good and definitely a story that needed to be told.

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