Posts tagged ‘Sports’

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. […]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Brothers at Bat

Today’s suggested theme for Picture Book Month is heroes. Well apparently last week’s post on the creator of Batman was one week too early (hehe). However, yesterday’s theme was friendship, and these guys featured in this true story definitely showcase the meaning of friendship, playing baseball together as friends and brothers for years.

Title: Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
Author: Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Steven Salerno
ISBN: 9780547385570
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2012.

I have a hard time imagining what life would have been like for this unique family. The Acerra family had sixteen children, and all twelve boys played baseball. If they grew up in today’s world, they would be featured in a reality television show. Instead, they lived their life and played baseball as a family, and stayed together throughout it all. Eventually, the whole family/team was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame!

While we don’t get a lot of factual or enumerated statistics, what do we get is a nice story that emphasizes the family. It’s written in a tone that mimics the oral tradition quality, making readers feel as if they are sitting around a dinner table hearing the stories from someone who was there, either growing up with the family or watching from the sidelines. That feeling probably comes from the fact that the author sat down to dinner with two of the surviving brothers to talk about their past. There’s a real connection made, and I know I was relieved to find out that all six brothers who went of to fight in World War II made it home alive. Vernick brings that emotion home by saying “Mama Acerra cried each time a boy walked in that door.” The artwork lends itself to that old-time feel as well. You can get a really good glimpse inside Steven Salerno’s thought process by checking out his blog, where almost exactly a year ago he gave us a glimpse at this book pre-publication.

As the snow flurries start falling and families start gathering for the holidays, you might want to take this book home and spark discussion of what family life was like for previous generations. Or maybe just use it to remind yourself that winter only lasts so long, and eventually thoughts will turn again to spring and baseball.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. For the entire round-up of all the bloggers who participated, check out Perogyo over at Perogies and Gyoza.

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Title: Zen and the Art of Faking It
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Narrator: Mike Chamberlain
ISBN: 9780739371558
Pages: 264 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs/ 5 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008 (print Scholastic, c2007)

San Lee has just moved to a new town (again) and has a chance to reinvent himself instead of being the adopted son of a con-man father who is now in jail and a mother who works long hours. So when the kids at school accidentally gets the impression that he’s some sort of Zen mystic, he decides to go along with it. Especially because his meditation in the snow catches the eye of Woody, a girl with her own history and drive to recreate herself.

I didn’t have the instant connection with Zen and the Art of Faking It that I did with Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie or After Ever After. The main characters of those other novels are introspective and mature and the stories are weighted with emotion. This story is less so, and at times San appeared abrasive to me. With the popularity of Wimpy Kid, I can see his attitude appealing to teen readers. He does work harder than Wimpy Kid in trying to accomplish his goals, however misguided those goals are since he’s encouraging his classmates to think of him as a Buddhist expert. San is extremely dense and essentially clueless, which got on my nerves. For example, something that bothers and troubles San for most of the novel I had figured out the first time they gave the clues, and was therefore yelling at my radio every time they mentioned it for the rest of the book. I did like that Sonnenblick took a chance at portraying Buddhism in a teen fiction book, since we see it presented so infrequently in literature. I thought applying the philosophies to every day events like basketball helped bring understanding and might encourage more exploration in the religion.

My apathy towards the book might have something to do with my listening experience. I had a hard time connecting with narrator Mike Chamberlain, with his efforts coming across as overly exaggerated and I can’t decide why. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but he didn’t have enough range to distinguish between all the characters, and I got confused over who was speaking several times.

Overall, this book is a coming of age story, and if older Wimpy Kids are looking for something similar I might hand it off to them. The “Happily Ever After” ending however is nothing like Wimpy Kid, and seems a little disingenuous with all the miscommunications that involve San. Personally, I would stick with Jordan Sonnenblick’s other novels.

The Running Dream

Title: The Running Dream
Author: Wendelin Vaan Draanen
ISBN: 9780375866678
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, c2011.
Publication Date: January 11, 2011

I am a runner.
That’s what I do.
That’s who I am.
Running is all I know, or want, or care about.
It was a race around the soccer field in third grade that swept me into a real love of running.
Breathing the sweet smell of spring grass.
Sailing over dots of blooming clover.
Beating all the boys.
After that, I couldn’t stop. I ran everywhere. Raced everyone. I loved the wind across my cheeks, through my hair.
Running aired out my soul.
It made me feel alive.
And now?
I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again. (6)

Sixteen-year-old Jessica is a runner. She runs for the thrill of feeling the wind through her hair and the punishing burn of continuing even when you’re brain and body are telling you to stop. Her promising career as a runner is cut short after her team’s bus is involved in an accident and she loses her leg. Jessica is heart-broken, and the mounting pile of medical bills, missed homework, and her secret crush’s interest in a teammate who’s anything but a team player does nothing to lift her spirits. Her coach and her best friend have other ideas though, and hatch a plan to help her recuperate. Jessica however, learns the most from a wheelchair bound classmate who is also fighting to be recognized as a person rather than a disability. Will she ever return to the life she loved?

Personally, I had a friend in high school who walked with a limp. I never questioned her about it, and accepted her as a friend. After four years of high school, during the last week of school, she told me that she really appreciated the fact that I never treated her any differently or asked her about her limp, which was a result of a childhood illness. I’m insanely proud and pleased that she felt compelled to tell me that, and I’ve tried to use that as a basis for interaction with others. Readers might also discover this same standard for accepting others as who they are. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how stereotypes influence our impressions of others, but the lesson rings true throughout this book.

I discovered this book from Ms. Yingling Reads who was raving about it, and actually asked “Is it possible to call dibs on a Cybil’s nomination?” And while I agree with the YA YA YAs who said the happy ending was a little predictable, I didn’t mind. I really didn’t mind all the wonderful support that Jessica gets from her family and friends and doctors and teammates and community. It’s Jessica’s story that readers are engrossed by, and it’s Jessica who has the roller coaster of emotions that keep us riding this heartfelt story that belongs on Lifetime or ABC Family. It’s Jessica’s strength, both internal and external, who inspire readers and had me cheering her and kept me reading until the very end. Jessica is also surprisingly sensitive to others, and worries about how people might react to her missing leg, her insurance problems, and the attention that she is gathering.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jessica’s classmate Rosa, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. Rosa has some wonderful insights that make readers pause and consider just how they are acting around others who are different than them. It also makes you wonder how should people react. Rosa’s insights just aren’t about treating people properly, but she’s remarkably perceptive and helps Jessica make decisions and guides her in making her own conclusions.

Want more information about this story? Check out the publisher produced book trailer, where Wendelin Van Draanen talks about the book and her motivation for writing it.


Title: Jump
Author: Elisa Carbone
ISBN: 978067001858
Pages: 258 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an Imprint of Penguin Group, c2010.

And he walks out the door, just like that, kind of like an apparition. I’m left to make up a whole lot of lies about how he’s a friend of my cousin’s and his name is Paul and I was really surprised to see him here because he told me he only climbs outdoors, but I’m sure he’ll be a great guy to do this trip with because my cousin (do I even have a cousin?) has always said good things about him. Daria is eyeing me and I think she knows I’m lying. But she also completely trusts me, and my judgment, and I can almost hear her thinking that if I’m comfortable taking a trip with this guy–whoever he is–then she’s good with it. So why am I fine with running off with this “Paul” person? Something in his eyes tells me he is not an ax murderer, not a rapist, and that he is a better-than-average Sherpa. He seems trustworthy, except for the fact that he walked out wearing rental rock shoes–probably just an oversight. And he seems, well, nice.
Or maybe I just can’ resist running away with a gorgeous blue-eyed stranger. (18-19)

Critter has just escaped from a mental institution after finally getting enough drugs out of his system to function in a way that he thinks is normal. His first act of freedom is to stop in at a rock gym where he meets P.K. whose planning an escape of her own. Facing the inevitability of being shipped off to boarding school, P.K. is trying to have one last adventure and secretly go rock climbing out West until her parents catch her. She’s not stupid enough to go climbing by herself, so when none of her friends agree to the plan and Critter volunteers, she jumps at the offer. Now both sets of parents and the cops are after the two kids as they suspect the worst, while Critter and P.K. are intent on making the adventure last as long as possible.

What is it about quirky couples that appeal to me? I’m beginning to sense a theme amongst my reading choices, and I’m actually really tempted to put together a list of “Quirky Couples” based on recent experience. That, however, is for another post, but feel free to give me some suggestions of what should be included in such a list.

Having never really climbed in my life (the 40-foot climbing wall at high school retreat I don’t think counts) due to a lack of upper body strength on my part, I’m intrigued and impressed with what P.K. and Critter are able to accomplish on their trip. The climbing terms were explained extremely well, and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. The pursuing police lends an extra sense of urgency to the story, and the adrenaline just keeps climbing until the climatic stand-off. And then, there’s a second climax as we wonder about the relationship, which is just as heart and gut-wrenching as the first.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading P.K. and Critter’s romance and how they influenced each other. Critter’s escape from the psych ward isn’t the only thing he’s hiding. That other secret has led him to have his unique, very optimistic way of viewing the world that I would love to have and experience… just without experiencing what he did in order to give him that outlook. For instant, he calls all those doubting voices in our head the hamster because he just keeps running the wheel and it doesn’t get you anywhere. He’s a very “in the present” kind of guy, which I’m not sure would completely work when you’re an adult, but here’s another example of his attitude.

P.K.: You seemed so calm up there, even when you kept falling. How do you do that?
Me: It’s easy. Don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future. There’s never any fear in the present.
P.K.: Oh yeah? What if you’re being chased by a grizzly bear?
Me: That’s fear of the future, of being caught by the bear. What if he catches you and just looks at you? Then see, there was nothing to be afraid of.
P.K.: Not likely. What if he catches you and crunches your leg?
Me: That’s not fear, that’s pain. You deal with that in the present, too.
P.K.: What if he eats you?
Me (shrugging): Then you die.
P.K.: So, duh. That’s something to be afraid of.
Me: Ha! That’s the biggest lie of all. (95)

It’s actually kind of amazing the turn around Critter went through; it’s like someone flipped a switch. But P.K. craves this optimistic outlook. Actually, I think Critter is perfect for P.K. BECAUSE of all he’s gone through. P.K. seems to have always thought her life was horrible, but Critter’s life is worse and yet he’s the way he is — and I’m not going to debate whether it’s in spite of or because of that past. Critter is something of a role model because it’s proof that things aren’t as bad as they might seem. And I think that’s a great message that doesn’t whack readers over the head, because the whole story is about living life in the present. And that’s what P.K. and Critter do, and it’s refreshing to see it play out that way.


Title: Swindle
Author: Gordon Korman
Narrator: Jonathan Todd Ross
ISBN: 9781436106542
Pages: 252 pages
Discs: 4 CDs, 4.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2008.

“You have been chosen for your special skills to do something that urgently needs to be done. To learn more, come to the Ballroom at 3:30. Don’t miss this. It will be worth your while – $$$” (117)

Sixth-grader Griffin Bing finds an old baseball card in an abandoned home slated for demolition, and sells it to S. Wendell Palamino for $120. Griffin later finds out that the card was worth more, a lot more. Like, possibly a million dollars more. And S. Wendell Palamino is planning on auctioning it off to the highest bidder. Not if Griffin has anything to say about it! Griffin is intent on getting the card back in order to prevent his cash-strapped parents from selling their house. But does the man with a plan have a back-up plan when things go horribly wrong?

Gordon Korman writes a fast-paced heist that asks a major question; is Griffin right? Great for book discussion, Griffin is convinced that he is justified in his attempts to steal the card from S. Wendell for his own personal use because he was lied to about the card’s value. But legally, it is S. Wendell’s now, and Griffin knows it. I’m sure a healthy and probably spirited debate could arise from participants, prompting “What would you do?” Griffin has his reasons for not trusting adults, which make his motivation more palatable to sympathetic readers.

I listened to this audiobook in less than a week, and the pitch perfect pacing wraps you into the story. You get involved, you get outraged, and you get anxious when the heist goes horribly wrong. Listeners know that things are just going too well, and you come to expect that something surprising is going to crop up. Even Griffin himself says at one point “Something unexpected happens in every plan. Now we’ve got that out of the way, and we can work around it.” (151)However the sheer quantity of things that go wrong is astonishing. And while the ending seems to wrap up just a little too neatly for my tastes, it’s a satisfying conclusion. The one thing I would have liked to see is an author’s note, detailing whether or not the card ever existed, and maybe some facts about sports memorabilia.

I’ve included the covers for both the hardcover and paperback editions. I was pleasantly surprised to see Luther (the guard dog) take more of a spotlight in the paperback version.

The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings

Title: The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings
Author: Alan Gratz
ISBN: 9780803732247
Pages: 299 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Books, c2009.

Nine months ag, Felix Schneider was the fastest boy in Bremen, Germany. Now he was the fastest boy in Manhattan, New York. He was so fast, in fact, the ship that had brought him to America arrived a day early. Now he stood on first base, waiting to run. (1)

When ten-year-old Felix Schneider snuck aboard a ship headed to America, he had no idea what he would set into motion. Alan Gratz ends the collection of short stories in The Brooklyn Nine eight generations later. Snider Flint has no idea that he has found a piece of family history when he discovers an old baseball in a box of discarded items in his uncle’s antique shop. In between these characters are short stories relating family members and their baseball exploits. We have Louis Schneider who plays baseball between Civil War scrimishes, Walter Snider who tries to sneak a black pitcher onto a segregated major league team, and Kat Flint who plays for the All-American Girls League during World War II. There’s a little something for all baseball fans here.

I’ll be quite honest that I am not a sports person. I don’t go to games regularly, I have little if any real athletic ability, and I’m one of those people who consider bowling a sport just so I can claim to play something. This lack of sports excitement comes from my mother, who taught me how to play baseball with three bases when I was younger, claiming you played at home with first, second, and third base. She also will ask anyone who will listen why there are quarterbacks, half-backs, and fullbacks, but not three-quarter backs. So when I had this book recommended to me by a coworker (who is a huge baseball fan), I was a little hesitant.

I had no need to fear, and should have picked this book up sooner. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, with the sillouette of a ball player imposed over a sun rise/set. The stories throughout the novel are wonderfully written. Although it’s not “marketed” as a collection of short stories, it really is, with each generation getting their own “inning” consisting of three chapters (reminescent of the three outs/strikes allowed per inning). Even if you know nothing about baseball, it’s explained extremely well, and you don’t get bogged down in the technical terms of the game. For instance, when Babe Herman “doubled into a double play”

Herman smacked a double to right, and Frankie stood and cheered. Hank DeBerry scored from third, but then things got crazy. Chick Fewster, who was on first when Babe got his hit, rounded second and slid into third. Dazzy Vance, who had been on second, got caught in a run-down trying to score. Meanwhile, Babe Herman, who’d kept his head down the whole time and run as hard as he could, tried to stretch his double into a triple.
And somehow, three Brooklyn Robins ended up standing on third base at the same time.
The Giants catcher tagged them all and let the umpires sort it out. Five minutes later, Herman and Fewster were called out. Babe Herman had doubled into a double play. (149)

Gratz provides an “Extra Inning” afterword where he details fact from fiction, which I always appreciate in a novel, especially historical fiction. This is a book where kids can read an inning, set it down, and then come back and read the next inning without any problems. Characters resurface from inning to inning as fathers, mothers, grandparents, and in one instance a great-grandfather. The book includes two stories about girls, which I’m sure will help sell to the hesitant girl. You could also pair this book with Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score, or others have recommended the newer realease The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane, and any Matt Christopher fan will probably gobble this book whole.


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