In the 1960s a guy named J.C. Martin made a living catching the great Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball. Doug Mirabelli always caught Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball for the Red Sox. They were called “personal catchers.” Catching a knuckleball was so difficult and so unpleasant for most regular catchers that if you could do it reasonably well (nobody did it really well), that one skill could keep you on the team. The personal catcher would sit on the bench until the knuckleballer took the mound, and then he and his special floppy mitt would enter the game. It was an odd kind of intimacy, to be joined together like that, a weird baseball marriage (p 74-75).
How can I express how much I enjoyed this book? It blended many of the themes present in several of this year’s best children’s books: death and abandonment, grief and alienation, discrimination and friendship. Yet none of these drowned the story and baseball tied it all together.
Baseball is what helps Molly hold herself together. It helps her come to terms with her father’s death and to discover herself. It is how she codified life:
Molly meanwhile was fantasizing about a scoring system not for baseball but for life. If she said something stupid, if she forgot to bring home her science book – those would be errors. If her mother came through for her and a third of the time – that sounded about right – her batting average would be .333. Back when her locked has been defaces and Lonnie came along and rescued her, he could have been credited with a save” (p 147).
The setting – Buffalo, NY – was a perfect choice. Like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, whose wintry and bleak Syracuse, NY setting gave the perfect backdrop to Melinda’s troubles, the gloomy Buffalo is “like Siberia, a place you’d go to disappear, or to be punished” (p 115) to this story. It supports Molly’s suspicions that her father’s job was “taking the starch out of him” (p 37) and that her mother was like a flower withering in such grey desolation.
My father, like Molly’s, was a reporter for the local newspaper, covering equally mundane and repetitious stories. While scavenging to salvage some of her father’s memorabilia, Molly stumbles across one of her father’s notepads. At first hopefully it will contain some sort of explanation for his mysterious death, she finds it blank and instead stages a mock interview with her father (p 55). I thought this and all the other little steps Molly took toward forgiving her father was exceptionally well done.
If you enjoyed this book, I recommend No Cream Puffs by Karen Day and Playing the Field by Phil Bildner.