This appears at first to be a realistic story before quickly morphing into something quite fantastical. Charlie's dad and stepdad were football heroes at their high school going on to play in college and professionally. Charlie's dad made poor choices and ended up in jail while Mack, Charlie's stepdad, made wiser choices with his life. Mack reminds me of Hrothgar in Beowulf as he offers Charlie wise advice modeling how to not be angry with his biological dad. "Your father made mistakes. We all do. But instead of working to set things right, he chose to protect those mistakes-he let them be." He goes on to tell him to overcome those mistakes and focus on his strengths; the strengths he received from his father such as toughness, easy laughter, and fleet-footedness. When Charlie decides to forgive his dad, it has been nurtured to some extent by Mack and echoes his wisdom. And Charlie isn't the only character that learns to forgive. This message of redemption applies to others as well in the novel.
When the Gren or zombies sent by the swamp-hag show up, it's hard not to make Beowulf comparisons. Just as Grendel in Beowulf terrorized King Hrothgar's hall, so the Gren terrorize the sugarcane fields of Taper. A battle ensues and a quest to kill the swamp-hag is tackled by heroes. In Beowulf, the heroic code is strength, courage, and honor which is also portrayed in Charlie, Cotton, Mack, Lio, Natalie, Sugar, and Bobby. Even the ripped off arm in Beowulf shows up in the ripped off arm of a Gren with toxic blood. Charlie does not have to save Cotton but does so because it is the right or honorable thing to do. The football team learns the heroic code by having to collect 10 rabbits and face a sugarcane harvest fire using speed and courage. How the heck the author came up with that idea and managed to connect it to Beowulf in an understandable way is truly the creative process in full swing. Don't miss this one.