Alfred Martino loved wrestling for Millburn High School as a teenager, but in his recently released young-adult novel, “Over The End Line” (Harcourt), high school sports take a dark turn.
Martino, who lives in a historic section of downtown Jersey City and runs a business in Union City, came to novel-writing shortly after he finished business school at the University of South California in 1993. While he and fellow student Alisa Weberman started an audio book company as a class project and continued it after graduation, Martino also exercised his writing chops.
Drawing on his athletic experiences growing up, he first completed a young-adult novel about two boys from New Jersey who would soon face each other for the state wrestling championships. Approximately 30 editors rejected it, but one company, Harcourt, suggested changes. Ultimately, Martino rewrote it enough to land a book deal.
Fifteen thousand copies of “Pinned” were published starting in 2005, and Martino spoke about the book at conventions and to schools. But he had a darker topic in mind for his second book.
For “Over the End Line,” he wanted to explore the favored status that high school athletes get, particularly in the context of sexual assault.
In New Jersey, the famous case happened in Glen Rock in 1989, in which a group of high school football players were accused of sexually assaulting a mentally retarded girl in the basement of a house.
Martino’s 304-page novel deftly explores the scenario from the point of view of a soccer player who longs to be more popular, Jonathan. Like his first book, the new one is set in Short Hills, a tony section of Millburn.
“My original germ of an idea was that I feel that at almost every level of society, athletes get away with much more than the average person,” said Martino, 44. “I did research on the aftermath of rape. The thing that struck me is that the impact of a rape never goes away. It’s a powerful theme going into the story.”
Martino had heard the stories about the Glen Ridge case and others.
“From reading these horrific stories about women and young girls, whether it was rape or sexual abuse, it happens so much more than we ever hear about,” he said. “I was disturbed by that, and moved.”
End of the line
In Martino’s novel, a disturbing incident occurs at a soccer team party after a championship. “Everyone gets drunk,” Martino explained. “Two of the players are goaded into taking advantage of this girl.”
And Jonathan, who is not that type of guy, sees something he wishes he hadn’t.
The protagonist is Jonathan, a lesser soccer player on the team.
Not all of the book is dark. Jonathan, a sensitive teen, tenderly recalls the girl he met at summer camp. He also explains the very clear social ladder at his high school. The writing is well crafted and true to life. “My tongue is rough and bone-dry and so swollen it doesn’t fit in my mouth,” Jonathan narrates when describing a hangover. “I try to swallow. Then try again.”
Martino said that he is already working on this third book, which is “going very quickly.” It concerns a girl who joins her high school wrestling team, and unusual but not unheard of practice today.
Martino returned to New Jersey after business school and set up his Listen & Live Audio company in East Hanover in 1998. He moved to different areas, then bought a one-story building on Manhattan Avenue in Union City in 2007. He has enjoyed the location.
“It’s a good city,” he said. “It’s clean, seems relatively safe. It’s a strange area of industry mixed with residential. It seems like a well-run city to me. Brian Stack, who’s the mayor, is very responsible. We’ve contacted the government about all kinds of things. This was a good, good move.”
Martino brings his two rescue dogs, Daisy and Sara, to work every day, where they keep watch over the audio books. He said that even in the tough times in the publishing industry, the business – which has largely changed from books on tape to books on CD and downloadable books – is “still pretty strong.”
“Over the End Line” is available in most stores or at amazon.com. Martino’s website is www.alfredmartino.com.
Also, Martino will appear at Jersey City’s second annual book festival, “A Tale of Our City,” on Saturday, Sept. 12. The festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Van Vorst Park.