From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up—Mike Semak's chances of becoming star center fielder and senior team captain are jeopardized when he loses his temper with a geeky classmate, Zack. The sweet spot on the baseball team becomes even more elusive when a cocky cleanup batter, Oscar Ramirez, arrives out of nowhere with a murky birth date and questionable immigration status. Mike's penance for fighting is to help out at Cyber Club, but he learns that Coach Cody purposefully assigned him to spy on Zack and other "pukes" he suspects are hacking into the school network. There, he falls for Kat, a smart and contentious girl who seems the antithesis of his girlfriend, Lori, a pretty baton twirler. Conflicted about Kat, his coach's paranoia, and his father's possible role in bringing the Ramirez family to town, Mike looks to his major league idol, Billy Budd, whose blog has always provided sound advice about baseball and other life matters. Mike wins a contest to meet his longtime hero, only to be disappointed by the "dumb jock" reality, and finds his own moral compass to solve his problems. Appealing primarily to a jock culture, Lipsyte's characters are fairly stereotypical, especially in Coach Cody's military approach to sports and discipline, and in Lori's portrayal as a giggly boy pleaser with a "pert butt and boobs." Mystery and relationship subplots may engage a wider audience, but the story shines in the play-by-play game and practice descriptions. While some real major league names are dropped, fictional Billy Budd's portrayal as a celebrity carefully conceived by media handlers is an element that won't be lost on teens.—Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
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High-school-junior Mike Semak has worked hard to earn his starting position in center field on his varsity baseball team. He finds inspiration and training tips by closely following the Web site of his hero, Billy Budd (a fictional member of the Yankees). Mike’s dream year becomes complicated after the arrival of Oscar, a Dominican who threatens his position. In addition, Mike contends with a stale relationship with his girlfriend, as well as required community service with the school’s Cyber Club. The novel includes intriguing ethical issues, but there are too many of them, and the plot spirals out of control as it follows its multiple strands about a coach’s personal secrets, illegal-immigration charges, a disappointing meeting with Billy Budd, and Mike’s new romance (including sex) with Kat, a track star whose nickname is Tigerbitch for her violent mood swings. It’s the novel, not the players, that are on steroids here, but Lipsyte is a master at sports fiction, and the baseball sequences are first rate. Grades 9-12. --Cindy Dobrez