Plunked

Well, it’s the first day of Spring Break, and I’ve already finished one book and started on another. The book I finished is a nominee for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and, in my opinion, it will be a hit with baseball fans–male and female, young and old. The book is Plunked by Michael Northrop. Now, I’ve been a baseball fan as long as I can remember, but I’d never heard the term “plunked” until I read this book. It essentially means “to hit someone or something abruptly,” and that definition certainly applies in this book.

To paraphrase that gem of baseball cinema, The Sandlot:  For Jack Mogens, baseball is life…and he’s good at it. This sixth-grader is looking to start in left field this year. He just needs to convince the coaches that he’s the man for the job. Jack’s got to be an outstanding outfielder and a top-notch hitter to claim the spot. Somehow, everything works out, but things won’t stay great for long. In the first game of the year, Jack is plunked by an inside pitch (his worst enemy). His cage gets rattled…as do his nerves. Now, at every at-bat, all Jack can think about is getting hit by another pitch. Fear is taking over his waking–and sleeping–hours, and Jack doesn’t know how he can possibly get over this and get his head back in the game.

It’s not exactly easy to get over being hit in the head by a pitch, especially when one of your own teammates seems bent on making it happen again. Jack just can’t let go of what happened to him, and it’s starting to cause problems with more than just baseball. He’s having nightmares. His relationships with his parents and friends are also suffering. Jack is lying to cover up just how badly this incident is making him feel, and he knows that his lies will eventually catch up to him. Can he turn things around before he gives up the game he loves entirely? Or will being plunked kill his baseball dreams for good? Read Plunked by Michael Northrop to learn what one kid will have to do to get back in the game.

Plunked will definitely be a winner with the boys in my school. Baseball is huge here in the south, and many of my students–boys and girls–play on Little League teams, so they’ll definitely be able to relate to the characters in this book. I’m hoping those that enjoy this book will continue on to other good baseball fiction like Beanball by Gene Fehler and Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick.

Even though Plunked is on the SC Children’s Book Award nominee list, I think this would be an excellent purchase for any middle school library, too. Middle school librarians may also want to check out Trapped, another excellent book by Michael Northrop. It touches on many teachers’ worst fear–being trapped inside a school during a freak snowstorm. (When I read it, I was extremely grateful to live in South Carolina. Our weather may be kind of schizophrenic, but we have very little chance of ever dealing with a snowstorm like the one in Trapped.)

For more information on Plunked and other books by Michael Northrop, visit http://michaelnorthrop.net/. Let the games begin!

The Comeback Season

A couple of days ago, I finished reading The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith.  (If that name rings a bell, it’s probably because she also wrote The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight…which I reviewed in March of this year.)  As a baseball fan, I was intrigued with the idea of a love story that essentially centered on a baseball team—even one that I’m not crazy about.  (The Chicago Cubs are featured in this book.  I’m a life-long Atlanta Braves fan.  Sadly, fans of both teams have grown accustomed to disappointment.)

Anyhoo, I was prepared for a light, fun read with lots of sports metaphors and a couple growing closer through their love of the game.  In one sense, I got what I was expecting.  In another, however, I got so much more.  The Comeback Season is much more than a love story.  Yes, there’s a tale of young love, but it’s also a book about moving forward and surviving…even when all hope is seemingly lost.

Ryan Walsh loves the Chicago Cubs.  It’s something she shared with her dad.  She loves the Cubs so much that she’s skipping school to catch opening day at Wrigley Field…on the tenth anniversary of her dad’s death.  (She’ll probably have more fun there anyway, even if the Cubs lose as they so often do, and even if this day brings back some pretty painful memories.  School is not exactly a good experience for Ryan.)  She doesn’t know what to think, though, when she runs into Nick, the new kid in school, also trying to score a ticket to watch the Cubs play.  Sadly, neither Ryan nor Nick gets a ticket to the game, but they do strike up a tentative friendship based on their mutual love for the Chicago Cubs.

When Ryan returns to school the next morning, she’s not quite sure how to act around Nick.  Are they school friends or baseball friends?  Will he be like every other person in school—even people Ryan once considered friends—and act like she’s invisible?  Much to Ryan’s surprise, Nick acknowledges her existence and seems to not care that she’s an outcast.  Their mutual love for the Cubs—and the hope that the team will have a good year—brings them together like nothing else could.

There may be something else, though, with the power to tear Ryan and Nick apart.  Something that neither of them knows how to fight.  Something that makes them question everything they’ve ever known or hoped for.  Nick is hiding a big secret, and when Ryan discovers what’s going on, she begins to lose faith in everything…including the baseball team that’s carried her through some of her toughest moments.

Ryan doesn’t think the Cubs will be enough this time, and she doesn’t know how to deal with the turmoil that is sure to come.  Ryan is losing the hope that is a part of every Cubs fan’s world, and she’s not sure how to get it back…or if she can, especially when it becomes clear that Nick—her only friend in the world and the boy who’s stolen her heart—is about to face something much more difficult than a baseball game.  Will this be a losing season for Ryan and Nick, or will they be able to come back from the biggest slump either of them has ever faced?  Read The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith to learn how true Cubs fans hold onto hope even in the toughest of times.

I did enjoy this book, even though I was less than thrilled with the ending.  I hate to say this, but The Comeback Season reminded me a little of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (probably the best book I’ve read so far this year).  I didn’t like this because, even at the beginning of this book, I had a feeling that I knew what was coming…and how I was going to react to it.  (I was right.)  Now, The Comeback Season, in my opinion, wasn’t nearly as good as The Fault in Our Stars, but the trials of at least one of the characters were similar to what happened in TFiOS.  Do with that what you will.

For more information on The Comeback Season and other books by Jennifer E. Smith, visit her website at http://www.jenniferesmith.com/, or follow her on Twitter @JenESmith.

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip

Sometimes I’m surprised by how much I enjoy a book.  That’s the case with Jordan Sonnenblick’s Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.  (Those that frequent this blog know that this is not the type of book I normally read.)  Having read one other book by Sonnenblick, Notes from the Midnight Driver, I had a feeling I would like Curveball, but I didn’t know that I would spend an entire Monday evening so engrossed that I would forget to watch How I Met Your Mother.  Only when I finished the book at around 9pm did I realize I had missed one of my favorite shows.  (Luckily, I found out it was a rerun, so I didn’t miss much.)  Curveball was a quick read, and it definitely held my interest.  The storyline was kind of predictable, but I really didn’t mind.  The main character, Peter, was relatable and funny, which is kind of rare in a lot of YA fiction.  (I’ll be the first to admit that many of the male characters I read about are morose, aloof, Mr. Darcy types…and they often have supernatural abilities.  I like that, but it’s sometimes nice to change things up a bit.)  I think Curveball will be an easy sell for male readers, from middle through high school, because of the baseball angle, but there’s really something in this book that all readers, male and female, will enjoy…a good story.

Peter Friedman loves baseball.  He’s all set to become a stud pitcher on the high school baseball team.  Unfortunately, his elbow has other ideas.  The summer after eighth grade, Peter has an accident that forces him to throw all of his dreams of being a star athlete out the window.  What now?  He can’t really be a big-shot baseball player if he can’t, you know, throw a baseball.  Peter’s best friend A.J. seems convinced that Peter will be back in pitching shape before the spring, but Peter knows that it’s not going to happen.  Is there any way for sports to play a part in Peter’s high school life?  Possibly.  And it all starts with an unexpected “gift” from Peter’s grandfather, the most important person in Peter’s life.

Peter knows how much photography means to his grandfather, so he’s worried when, all of a sudden, Gramps gives all his stuff away.  Peter thinks it’s a sign that something is wrong with his grandpa.  He’s probably right, but no one—his mom or his grandfather—wants to admit that there might be a problem.  Peter knows he’s too young to have this worry added to all his other issues—his slow-to-heal injury, his delusional best friend, girls, and finding a place for himself in high school—but he just can’t help it.

Peter finds some happiness in two things:  photography and Angelika.  Photography gives him a connection to his grandfather and an identity at school.  Angelika, the cute, funny girl in his photography class, provides Peter with a confidante, a friend, a partner, and, when he needs it most, a swift kick in the pants.  Even though things seem to be unraveling around him, Angelika is his constant, until she confronts Peter about being honest about his future with baseball and his grandfather’s condition.  Peter is losing his grip, and he’s unprepared for the curveballs life has thrown his way.  Can he figure everything out before he loses everything that really matters?  Read Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip to discover how one guy gets his head back in the game…of life.

For more information on Curveball and other books by Jordan Sonnenblick, visit http://www.jordansonnenblick.com/.