Thirty-six (short) chapters with a cliff-hanger or a plot twist at the end of almost every one. Now that’s an accomplishment, even if it did give me a feeling of whiplash being jerked around that much. Just when I thought I knew which direction the narrative was going, just when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, just when I thought I had the characters’ decisions and motivations figured out, just when I thought something somewhere was resolved, it wasn’t and I didn’t. I don’t honestly know if this would captivate or annoy most children, but it made me keep reading until nearly the end, about chapter thirty-one, when I just wanted everything to be settled and decided. I did finish to make sure that it was settled, but I was ready to slap the author up the side of the head if she wrote another about-face and switch directions.
The story is about an annual baseball game, Walt Whitman’s poetry, an anniversary county history pageant, the death of old man Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd, and the friendship between House Jackson, pitcher, and Cleebo Wilson, catcher, for the Aurora County All-Stars. All of these things, especially the pageant and the baseball game which happen to be scheduled for the exact same day and time, become entwined and enmeshed and confused, and the only way anything is ever going to work out is for House to figure out Whitman’s words about “the symphony true” and how they apply to events in Aurora County, Mabel, Mississippi, in the summer of whatever year it is in this story.
I dunno. The story was fun and intriguing with its double back somersaults, but maybe it’s too twisty and double-crossing for kids. I think I’ll try it out on some of mine and see what happens. I’ll get back to you on how the experiment goes.
Oh, I did like the quotations at the beginning of chapters from Walt Whitman, who was apparently a baseball fan (who knew?), and from various and sundry famous baseball players. I’ll whet your appetite for the book with a few:
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” —Roger Hornsby, second baseman, St. Louis Cardinals.
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” —Yogi Berra, catcher, New York Yankees.
“After the clangor of organ majestic, or chorus, or perfect band,
Silent athwart my soul, moves the symphony true.” —Walt Whitman
“Anytime you have an oppportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on earth.” —Roberto Clemente, right fielder, Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Aurora County All-Stars reminds-me-of last year’s Out of Patience by Brian Miehl (Semicolon review here): small town baseball team, historical secrets, possible treasure, single parent dad. The Aurora County All-Stars is nominated for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction.
Other bloggers chime in:
Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production: “House has the same good-hearted reticence as Cooper, complete with strong short sentences and a kind of basic decency you look for in an old-fashioned hero. Since Wiles’ novels all seem to take place in a kind of no-time (an era when soap operas and small town baseball games exist within the same sphere) it makes sense that House’s actions and mannerisms should conjure up the hero of a time past.”
Bookshelves of Doom: “Baseball and Walt Whitman and friendship and family and history and yes, it made me cry. Not in a full-on sobbing-so-much-it-hurts way, but in a pleasant, I-love-baseball-stories and I-love-the-people-in-Aurora-County sort of way.”
Sarah Miller: “The pageant vs. ballgame plot moves along at a healthy clip, and the book is loaded with cliff hangers, from ghosts and garden hose duels to busted elbows with bases loaded.”
Franki at A Year of Reading: “This is a story of baseball, a story of a strong community, and a story of friends. Deborah Wiles ties the story together with quotes from Walt Whitman. She also uses quotes from famous baseball players to set the stage for each chapter. Her writing is brilliant.”
Kirsten at The Kingdom of Books: “Another great book by Deborah Wiles! The lazy days of a small town summer where baseball and 4th of July pageants take center field transport the reader to a nostalgic place in time when neighbors looked out for one another and life was enjoyed outdoors.”
Read, Read, Read: “I liked that the book could appeal to both girls and boys. I also liked that the characters had some genuine qualities that could pull you into the story. I did shed a tear or two during the story. I love stories set in small towns.”
Obviously they (mostly) liked it better than I did.