Tag Archives: young adult novel

The Pitcher

The Pitcher: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehlerbooks, $15.95, 241 pages)

The Pitcher (nook book)

“I had a friend who was a big baseball player back in high school/ He could through that speedball by you/ Make you look like a fool, boy…/ Glory days, they’ll pass you by….” Bruce Springsteen, “Glory Days”

The Pitcher is Jack Langford, a 25-year major league baseball veteran, whose existence consists of watching games on television in his garage and drinking Good Times beer. Ricky, who lives across the street from Jack, is an aspiring pitcher on the cusp of high school with much more arm than control. Ricky’s mother is a noble soul, trying to raise her son and advance his future in the midst of racism, poverty, and violence.

The writing flows smoothly, the characters are interesting, and the story itself is intriguing. The Pitcher is clearly an enjoyable read, particularly well suited for young adult males. Its only detractors are those baseball purists who like everything in their baseball literature to 100% accurately reflect the game down to the smallest minutiae. From strictly a baseball standpoint, there are some technical inaccuracies (e.g., when Jack finally agrees to give lessons to Ricky and help him make the team, they are nothing like what pitching lessons would actually consist of). There are some others as well, such as description of the interactions between umpires and coaches, coaches and players, etc. However, this is fiction, and in all fiction one must be willing to suspend disbelief. If the baseball fanatic can get past some of that, there is much for them to enjoy here. The story will bring back feelings like hope or joy or disappointment for those who once played the game.

The premise of The Pitcher is strong. This reviewer cannot help but speculate how the major issues dealt with in the book (racism, immigration reform, how to live when one’s dreams seem to be over, domestic violence, access to health care, etc.) would have translated to a larger audience if not confined to a first-person telling by Ricky, whose 8th grade maturity level and vocabulary do not always do them justice.

All of that being said, The Pitcher is a worthy rendering of the age old theme of a boy, a ball, and a dream.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and a former college baseball player. He is also the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and Bob Dylan.

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Crossed: A YA Novel

On February 12, 2011, we posted a review (“You Belong to Me”) of the recommended dystopian YA novel Matched by Ally Condie.   The follow-up novel, Crossed, will be released on November 1, 2011.   But you don’t have to wait until then to begin reading this YA novel; just click on the link below:

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/09/13/crossed-excerpt-exclusive-first-two-chapters/

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The Card

The Card: A Van Stone Novel by Jim Devitt (CreateSpace; $10.99; 248 pages)

When reading Jim Devitt’s self-published novel The Card: A Van Stone Novel, one can’t help but think of the classic cartoon Scooby Doo.   In it, three high school students become entangled in a web of intrigue for which one must be willing to suspend belief to a large degree to buy into.

The story starts innocently enough, as 18-year-old Van Stone wins an essay contest to become a clubhouse go-fer for the Seattle Mariners major league baseball organization.   This would be a summer dream for many young men, but it is not far into the novel that the connection to baseball is minimized and instead shifts to the mystery surrounding the Moe Berg baseball card given to Van by his father.   (For additional information on why this is significant, see The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff.   To give away more would be to compromise the ending of this book.)

Van’s father worked for a company called Biotrust, which is involved in high level, top-secret scientific research, before he left to become an independent businessman.   Van’s precious possession, his father’s gift, is associated with a vicious plot to uncover a highly classified secret, sucking Van and his two best friends onto both a quest to solve the mystery and a fight for survival.

The book loses steam about a third of the way through despite some unexpected twists in the final 20 or so pages.   The fact that Van and his friends never go to the police until a Mariners employee brokers a meeting is hard to fathom, and the reason given for this at the end of the story is nearly untenable.   The dialogue between the three best friends is flat in most instances, and the closeness of the relationships of the main characters does not come through to the extent it could.

This reviewer could not find any information indicating that the book is specifically intended for Young Adult audiences.   However, taken as such, it has more merit.   The simplicity of the storytelling and character development would not be as much of a drawback in that case, and a young, male reader – in particular – might find this an enjoyable book to pick up as professional baseball heads into its playoff season.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the author.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which deals with a young man, the game of baseball and the musician known as Bob Dylan.

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When the Ship Comes In

Between Shades of Gray: A Novel by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel; $17.99; 344 pages)

In the epilogue to Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, protagonist Lina speaks to us from a time capsule:  “It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar…  prompt you to do something, to tell someone.   Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.”

The story that she has buried in that jar begins in 1941 in Lithuania.   Lina, who is fifteen, her younger brother Jonas, and her mother are at home one evening when the Soviet secret police come to the door.   Through her eyes we watch as the three are deported to Siberia.   Lina’s father, a professor who has aided relatives’ emigration to Germany has been arrested.   His actions were prompted by the hope that the relatives might, in turn, help his own family escape Stalin’s tyranny.

As the truth of their situation gradually unfolds for Lina, she draws images of horror and images of heroism, and tucks the sketches into the lining of her suitcase.   It’s an act of silent rebellion that she knows is both brave and foolish.   But she is an artist who is desperate to record the history of the ordinary people swept up in Stalin’s purges.   Through Lina’s eyes we see a portrait of true grace emerge in Mother, a woman whose calm, kindness, and humanity buoy the spirits of everyone else.   We see how memories have the power to sustain and what happens when hope is lost.

What we do not see is why Stalin shipped this trainload of slave labor all the way across Siberia and north to the Arctic Circle to do work that seems only to sustain the comfort of the soldiers who guard them.   Perhaps Sepetys intended the apparent illogic of the labor camp’s location to be yet another layer of punishment – another obstacle to hopefulness.

Sepety’s characters are fascinating, even those who are the verbal equivalent of pencil sketchesthe bald man, the man who wound his watch, the repeater.   Her spare prose is reminiscent of Pearl Buck’s.   Between Shades of Gray depicts the effects of a moral disaster rather than Buck’s natural ones, but both authors know their story is so intrinsically dramatic that it needs no melodrama.   Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, published the novel, Sepety’s first, in March of 2011.   Highly recommended – and not just for young readers.

Kimberly Caldwell Steffen

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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What the World Needs Now is Love

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper, a division of HarperCollins; $17.99; 448 pages)

When we meet Lena, her final year of high school is ending and she has one last summer to spend with her best friend Hana before the demands of adulthood claim her.   Like many almost-eighteen-year-olds, she sees cracks forming in her bond with Hana, and they worsen when she discovers that Hana has been listening to forbidden music and breaking curfew to sneak out to illegal dance parties.

Unlike many almost-eighteen-year-olds, Lena does not feel the need to have a last hurrah.   In fact, she is counting down the days until she can embrace the life that the government will plan for her, right down to selecting the boy she will marry.   Why?   Because when she turns eighteen, she will undergo the cure for the affliction that took the life of her mother: amor deliria nervosa – in a word, love.   And she can barely wait.

In the dystopian world of Portland, Maine, of the not-too-distant future, the government has determined that love is the root of all evil, and the remedy it has devised not only prevents its occurrence but also erases the memory of the fevered, distracting, roller-coaster emotions that plague those afflicted in their teen years.   Lena, short for Magdalena, as in Mary Magdalene, is anxious to prove to the couple that raised her – and to Portland, in general – that she is not like her mother.

But, of course, then she meets Alex, and she realizes that she’s wrong.   “If pneumonia felt this good,” she says, “I’d stand out in the snow in winter with bare feet and no coat on, or march into the hospital and kiss pneumonia patients.”

Delirium is a bit slow to get rolling, but readers who hang with Lena through her first “evaluation” for her “pairing” will be rewarded with a love story reminiscent, in some ways of Romeo and Juliet, as well as an exploration of other forms of love, and a nail-biting chase scene at its climax.

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver – whose debut novel, Before I Fall, was a New York Times bestseller – is the first book in a trilogy.   So Shakespeare can rest assured that Lena will not by any other name become a Juliet.   It will be interesting to see who she does become.

Highly recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was received from the publisher.   Delirium was released in hardcover form on February 1, 2011.

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