Just as House Jackson has recovered from a broken elbow and begins to ready his team for their one and only game of the year, all the mamas in town sign their kids up to be in Finesse Shotz pageant to celebrate the town’s 200th anniversary, which just so happens to be the same time as the big game. Frances and House were already enemies after Frances caused the accident that broke House’s elbow, causing him to miss last year’s game. During his year without baseball, House has spent time reading to the recluse elderly man who lives next-door, and carefully keeping it a secret from the rest of the baseball team. His secret is almost spilled when House discovers the man has died and left him a copy of Walt Whitman poetry. As the publisher says, in the end, “Mysteries are revealed, friendships are healed, and everyone, from youngest to oldest, learns something about love, community . . . and baseball.”
Like Wiles other books, Love, Ruby Lavender and Each Bird Sings; this books is also set in fictional Aurora County and even has an appearance by Ruby, but this book is the first to take a boy’s point-of-view. It’s chock-full of small town stereo types like mamas who spend all of their time together at the Laundromat watch soap operas and a nosey town reporter who publishes articles on rumors she over-hears while buying produce at the Piggly Wiggly.
Kirkus reviews states that sections of this book originally appeared in serialized form in the Boston Globe, which may explain why there are some great scenes, but most of the book drags on and feels a bit pieced together. There were some parts of the plot that I really enjoyed like Ruby worming her way onto the all-boy baseball team because she’s such a good player, and a subplot involving the discrimination in early professional baseball, but the majority of the book I found humdrum as the major problem of the book (whether there will be a baseball game or a pageant) was easily solvable.
The part of the book that I found most odd was all of the literary references. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed picking them out, but this book is written for a child audience people!!!! The references are everywhere; there’s a dog name Eudora Welty and large part of the plot is based on the poetry of Walt Whitman so many chapter begin with a Whitman quote. Many comments like, “Don Quixote directed her Sancho Panza to take the vote.” and, “He’s as dead as beautiful, young Emily Webb in Our Town by Thornton Wilder!” will be lost on the intended audience. It makes me question why these references are there. Does Wiles think the average fifth grader who picks up this book is also reading “Death of a Traveling Salesman” in their free time or more likely is she trying to appeal to English teachers?