From School Library Journal
Grade 7–10—In loosely connected chapters, Gratz examines how one Brooklyn family is affected by the game of baseball. Ten-year-old German immigrant Felix Schneider arrives in America in the mid-19th century and uses his speed to good advantage both on the ball field and as a runner delivering the goods his uncle, a cloth cutter, produces. His fortunes and his family's take a turn for the worse, however, when his legs are badly injured in the great Manhattan fire of 1845 (where he encounters volunteer firefighter Alexander Cartwright, the father of modern baseball). Subsequent "innings" deal with Felix's son, Louis, who has compassion for a Confederate soldier because of their shared love of baseball; Walter Snider, a Brooklyn Superbas batboy who secures a tryout for legendary Negro Leagues star Cyclone Joe Williams and discovers the ugliness of anti-Semitism and racial prejudice; and Jimmy Flint, a 10-year-old in 1957, who worries about the class bully, Sputnik, nuclear annihilation—and the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn. Curiously, the author passes over the team's glory years from the late 1940s to the mid-'50s. For the working-class Schneider/Snider family, baseball is an important part of their history, but it does little to mitigate the gritty reality of their lives. Economic uncertainty, prejudice, and the threat of violence are ever-present concerns, and the accurate, tough-minded depiction of these issues is the novel's greatest strength.—Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
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*Starred Review* Gratz (Samurai Shortstop, 2006) builds this novel upon a clever enough conceit—nine stories (or innings), each following the successive generations in a single family, linked by baseball and Brooklyn—and executes it with polish and precision. In the opening stories, there is something Scorsese-like (albeit with the focus on players, not gangsters) in Gratz’s treatment of early New York: a fleet-footed German immigrant helps Alexander Cartwright (credited with creating modern baseball) during a massive 1845 factory fire; a young boy meets his hero, the great King Kelly, who by age 30 is a washed-up alcoholic scraping by as a vaudeville act. The pace lags a bit in the middle innings, where a talented young girl stars in the WW II–era All-American Girls Baseball League and a card-collecting boy lives in fear of the Russians, Sputnik, and the atomic bomb. But the final two stories provide a flurry of late-inning heroics: a Little League pitcher’s shot at a perfect game told with breathtaking verve; and a neat stitching-together effort to close the book. Each of the stories are outfitted with wide-ranging themes and characters that easily warrant more spacious confines, but taken together they present a sweeping diaspora of Americana, tracking the changes in a family through the generations, in society at large for more than a century and a half, and, not least, in that quintessential American pastime. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman